Desk jobs have surprising brain health benefits, but there's a catch

Desk and other sedentary jobs are often associated with poorer health, but that's not an entirely accurate picture, according to a new study. Researchers have found that people who work desk-based jobs are less likely to experience cognitive decline as they age compared to others who work physically active jobs. This is good news, but there is a 'catch' when it comes to overall health.

Researchers with the University of Cambridge evaluated the potential brain health effects of desk-based jobs to determine whether it impacts the rate of cognitive decline later in life. Because a lack of exercise or general physical activity is linked to poorer cognition over time, it has been popularly assumed that physical activity must protect against this decline.

To evaluate this potential, the researchers used data from the EPIC-Norfolk Cohort on around 8,500 adults ages 40 to 79. With an average of 12 years of follow-up, the study found that desk-based jobs like office jobs were linked to a reduced risk in developing poor cognition in older age compared to physically active jobs.

The study notes that individuals who worked physical jobs were more likely to have 'no qualifications' compared to desk workers; they were also less likely to be active outside of work, which makes sense since their job involved being physically active. The researchers found that physical workers had nearly three times the risk of cognitive decline compared to desk workers.

Participants who continued to work desk jobs for the duration of the study period were found to be in the top 10-percent of performers, at least when it came to cognition. The findings indicate that the mentally challenging aspect of desk jobs may protect cognition in a way that physical laboring cannot.

With that said, getting physical activity is necessary to reduce one's risk of many other health issues, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and dementia. Many studies have found that around 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day or 150 minutes per week has health-promoting effects over the duration of one's life.