Mental health benefits of your college education and career
How often do you loathe those seemingly ceaseless term papers or work projects that tirelessly wrack your brain? Turns out that your education and work load may actually protect you from developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease (giving you reason to smugly smirk at your slacker classmates and co-workers).
Challenge your brainA recent study published in the medical journal Neurology indicates that a high level of education and a mentally challenging job can decrease memory impairment and delay the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. And with an estimated one in six women at risk for developing the disease, all that mental energy spent on school and on the job doesn't seem so wasted.
A study of people with amnestic mild cognitive impairment showed that although all participants in the study had the same level of impairment, those with a high level of education and a more intellectually stimulating job sustained significantly less damage than those with lower education or less mentally challenging occupations.
Boost your cognitive reserveResearchers theorize that education and demanding jobs create a buffer against the effects of dementia, referring to it as a cognitive reserve. It seems that people with higher cognitive reserve have brains that compensate for impairment.
This means it's possible for highly educated or mentally stimulated people – as compared to people with lower education and less stimulating work – to function better despite having the same level of Alzheimer's changes in the brain.
Experts suspect that people with higher educations or mentally challenging jobs have the ability to recruit alternative, or redundant, neural networks to support cognitive function despite damage to their brain caused by Alzheimer's. It is plausible that your higher education and career may serve to strengthen your brain.
However, it is also possible that genetic factors that enabled you to achieve higher education and occupational achievement in the first place might determine your cognitive reserve and brain fitness.
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