Use It or Lose it – Why You May Never Want to Retire (10/12/10)
Many people believe they’ll never retire – because they won’t have the chance. The Wall Street –Subprime meltdown decimated personal retirement accounts while leaving public pensions grotesquely underfunded. Social Security has not paid cost of living increases for two years, and a highly indebted government may become incapable of paying for Medicare. Add in a nationwide unemployment, depression and the sad fact that the fiscal follies of the past are not fixed and may return. It’s no surprise many folks figure they’ll work till they drop.
But there may be a partially silvered lining. Extended years of work may improve memory and help the brain renew.
Working longer may support many millions’ memories if you accept the implications of a study reported by Gina Kolata in the New York Times today. Performed by a University of Michigan team using long-term data from many countries, it discovered that people from nations where folks work later in life did considerably better on a simple memory test. In France, where nationwide protests again erupted against pushing the regular retirement age from 60 to 62, participants did quite poorly.
Correlation is not causation. Still , later retirement may benefit your body in numerous ways.
The Brain is Always Learning
Information processing – that’s what the brain and body do – until you stop. All the massive information reaching your mind and body needs to be processed, remembered or forgotten. Every cell adapts to the new information.
We learn till we die.
Much of this information is unconscious – the new tricks you learn with riding a bicycle or driving a stick shift. And all the new information once suitably digested gives the right template to help your body rebuild. As many of the building blocks of your cells last only minutes to hours, you get rebuilt really fast. More and better information should make your body more effective – and your supposedly aging brain more experienced and wiser.
The same factors can also make you live longer. Here are some reasons:
Why Work Works for Memory
1. Physical activity. To go to work you need to get there, do some kind of physical activity on the job, and tramp or drive home. The more physical activity, the more effective your brain’s regrowth.
Simply walking 20 to 30 minutes a day will grow new brain cells, in memory areas, during sleep. Rest is regeneration
2. More information – on the job there is usually a lot to get done, with lots of new stuff sent to the brain and body.
Just consider walking across the street – you meet up with hundreds of different bacteria, fungi, allergens, chemicals, all of which your brain and immune system must process. Three-dimensional space gets reassessed with every step. Dodging cars and texting SUV drivers revamps visual memory, and changes how your joints rebuild. That huge slug of unconscious information may explain why 90% or more of “resting” brain activity seems to be “the brain talking to itself.” It’s got a lot to work on
3. Social support. More social interaction means decreased risks of heart attack, stroke, and depression. All can help lead to dementia.
4. Better rest. Regular daytime activity often promotes better sleep – which regenerates brain and body. There are also more chances for active rest – physical, mental, social, and spiritual – done on the job – as people do what they can to remain alert.
5. Better body clocks. Time rules life. A job generally means scheduled hours. Regular hours keep inner clocks tighter. Just like the timer on an engine, keeping your 24-hour and other clocks strong and synchronized leads to better overall health – including better brain function.
6. Identity and meaning – For many a job defines them. People always ask, “What do you do?” The meaning that comes from work accomplished often helps pull people forward into the future.
7. Flow – the personal high of being in “flow,” where you don’t notice the time; lack self consciousness; have a challenge and meet it, is associated in many minds with sports or leisure activities. Yet often people report more of their flow activity at work.
Does Work Work for You?
Jobs and Autonomy
Some jobs fill the spirit while others rot the soul. Control of what you do on the job strongly impacts satisfaction and long-term survival.
Yet the body is always learning. Generally the more information, the better we learn. Work can provide that and much else. Though the biological mechanisms are anything but clear, satisfying work can help prevent depression; increase the physical activity that helps rebuild brain cells and arteries; and can connect people to each other while giving them a concrete sense of why they’re alive.
Look at creative people. Many never want to retire – why give up all that fun? Many creative folks move on to work in different arenas with age.
But regeneration is renewal. Much of you gets replaced in days, but give the body the right information and it rebuilds right.
Asian American women in Suffolk County, New York, have an expected lifespan of 95.6 years. There’s no reason other American populations can’t last as long – with their memories intact and their sense of purpose renewed.
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