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MUNICH, Germany — Early retirement is usually something to envy. However, a new study suggests those who postpone their retirement actually tend to boast stronger cognition and thinking skills.

Researchers from The Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science in Germany report that continuing to work longer in life is associated with a slowed rate of cognitive decline.

More specifically, after analyzing data provided by the U.S. Health and Retirement Study, study authors conclude that continuing to work in the labor market up until the age of 67 helps slow cognitive decline and protects against the type of cognitive impairment often associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Notably, these findings held up across genders, education levels, and job fields.

In short, the study suggests that continuing to work past retirement age helps keep the brain sharp – or at least not any duller.

The dataset used for this research encompassed over 20,000 Americans between the ages of 55 and 75, all of whom had worked in the labor market at some point between 1996 and 2014.

As the global population continues to age, dementia rates in general are increasing over time. Today, roughly 50 million people all over the world struggle with a form of dementia, with 60-70% of those individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, that figure is expected to double and perhaps even triple in the coming decades. Considering the fact that there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s, these findings may prove invaluable in the fight against dementia.

“In this study, we approach retirement and cognitive function from the perspective that they both come near the end of a long path of life,” says study co-author Angelo Lorenti in a media release. “It begins with one’s social origins in ethnicity, gender, and early-life social and economic status, goes on with educational and occupational attainment and health behaviors, and goes all the way up to more proximate factors such as partnership status and mental and physical health. All these kinds of factors accumulate and interact over a lifetime to affect both cognitive function and age at retirement.”

While retirement is certainly something to look forward to, it’s also a life stage often characterized by doing a whole lot of nothing. While all that rest and relaxation is probably well deserved after decades spent punching a time card, this work makes a compelling argument to stay busy on some level no matter what stage of life you find yourself navigating.

“We investigated how demographic change interacts with social and labor market dynamics,” Lorenti concludes. “Our study suggests that there may be a fortuitous unintended consequence of postponed retirement.”

The study is published in SSM – Population Health.

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