Woman nearing retirement texting on the phone outside

Cancel That Early Retirement—How an 8-Hour Workday Benefits Your Brain

Cancel That Early Retirement—How an 8-Hour Workday Benefits Your Brain

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

Ah, retirement: that well-earned rest after years of hard work. It's our time to explore il dolce far niente, or what Italians call the "sweetness of doing nothing"—and to many Americans, having the wherewithal to retire before age 65 is a considered the ultimate economic status symbol. But if your retirement planning includes sunbathing on some faraway beach or idly puttering about your backyard garden, you might want to reconsider. Delaying retirement may also delay your brain's aging, according to a new study.

The study analyzed data from the U.S. Health and Retirement Study of over 20,000 Americans between the ages of 55 to 75 who had worked at some point between the mid-90s and 2014. The conclusion? Those who stayed in the labor market until at least age 67 had a slowed rate of age-related cognitive decline compared to those who retired between the ages of 55-66.

The findings held constant regardless of gender, educational or occupational levels. "We investigated how demographic change interacts with social and labor market dynamics," explained the authors. "All these different factors accumulate and interact over a lifetime to affect both cognitive function and age at retirement."

Perhaps your 9-to-5 isn't exactly intellectually stimulating, and you're wondering how the monotony of daily tasks could be good for your brain. Note that the study did not conclude that working boosts brain performance—only that helps slow down the rate at which cognitive skills dwindle (or, at least, keeps them from fading any further). This may be comforting information for those Boomers who had their eye on an under-60 retirement milestone, but for financial reasons, find themselves still working well into their eighth decade. "Our study suggests that there may be a fortuitous unintended consequence of postponed retirement," noted the authors.

These recent findings are not the first to suggest that a youthful brain is linked to working. Another 2018 study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology showed that retirement, especially marked by a long period of "doing a whole lot of nothing," is associated with a significant decline in memory performance.

What happens to the brain after retirement?

The aging process spares no one. Like the rest of you, your brain—an intricate collection of neurons that relay and receive signals to and from the body—naturally declines with time. Our brains shrink in volume, particularly in the frontal lobe, the area of the brain associated with personality, and higher-level functions like planning, organizing, voluntary movement and day-to-day communication.

Suddenly you notice that you fumble with a word, or your memory starts to feel faulty. Unfortunately, as the population ages, so do the number of people struggling with more severe cognitive-health-related concerns like Alzheimer's Disease.

Undoubtedly, a lack of mental stimuli affects our brain's well-being, especially as we age. Fortunately, however, staying engaged in mentally challenging activities can stave off some types of cognitive decline.

How to keep your brain sharp as you age

Maintaining a sharp brain is essential to enjoying (and remembering) life's most precious moments. If staying in your current job (or finding a new one) isn't in the cards for you, you can still keep your brain in youthful form, with these tips:

  • Leave your comfort zone

    —Learning a new language or how to play the guitar prompts your brain to release dopamine and serotonin, two chemical messengers crucial to learning, pleasure, thinking, planning and more.
  • Mediate for your brain's sake

    —Add meditation to your daily habits, even if it's just 10 minutes. This simple act of self-care promotes brain clarity in addition to other benefits.
  • "MIND" what you eat

    —Eating antioxidant-rich foods like those from the MIND diet positively affect cognitive health.
  • Show up to your yoga mat

    —Studies show that regular exercise encourages the brain's ability to rewire itself and produce new brain cells.



About Our Story Sources

The Life Extension Health News team delivers accurate information about vitamins, nutrition and aging. Our stories rely on multiple, authoritative sources and experts. We keep our content accurate and trustworthy, by submitting it to a medical reviewer.