If you work in a boring or unfulfilling job it could have long term consequences for your mental health. [Photo: Bigstock]

A dull, dirty workplace can affect brain function

20 June, 2016

Natural Health News — A new study has found that both a lack of stimulation in the workplace and a dirty working environment can have a long-term cognitive effect on employees.

“Psychologists say that the brain is a muscle, while industrial hygienists point to chemicals in the work environment that may cause decline,” said Professor Joseph Grzywacz, at Florida State University and lead researcher on the study.

“There are real things in the workplace that can shape cognitive function: some that you can see or touch, and others you can’t. We showed that both matter to cognitive health in adulthood.”

In the past, researchers had been divided on whether it was working in an unclean workplace – facing exposure to agents such as mold, lead or loud noises – or working in an unstimulating environment that took the biggest toll on brain health as people aged.

What you need to know

» New evidence suggests that the work environment can have long term effects on brain function.

» Data from nearly 5000 men and women across the US found that dull work or work which took place in space that exposes you to molds, toxins or loud noises had a particularly debilitating effect on people’s brains as they aged.

» However the opposite was also true.working in a stimulating, clean environment resulted in better cognitive performance as people aged.

This new study which included data from 4,963 men and women ages 32 to 84 from across the US, is significant because it showed both can play an important role in long-term cognitive well-being.

Long term-consequences

For the study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Grzywacz and his team obtained cognitive function data from working adults participating in the Midlife in the United States study. Their results had two major takeaways: One was that greater occupational complexity – that is the learning of new skills and taking on new challenges – resulted in stronger cognitive performance particularly for women as they aged.

The second result was that men and women who had jobs that exposed them to a dirty working environment also saw a cognitive decline.

“Both of these issues are important when we think about the long-term health of men and women,” said Grzywacz.

The researchers analysed the data to examine individuals’ workplaces and their ability to maintain and later use information they learned. They also looked at their executive functioning skills such as their ability to complete tasks, manage time and pay attention. Additionally, the data included responses from participants asking them about any memory issues they were experiencing.

“The practical issue here is cognitive decline associated with aging and the thought of, ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it,'” Grzywacz said. “Designing jobs to ensure that all workers have some decision making ability may protect cognitive function later in life, but it’s also about cleaning up the workplace.”