Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care


Use it or lose it: fact or fiction?

10 July 2018

New evidence that keeping our brains active as we get older may keep mental decline at bay.

It seems there is some hard evidence to back up the commonly held view that keeping our brains active as we get older may help to keep mental decline at bay. In the latest ICLS WorkLife blog, researcher Baowen Xue shares findings from her recent research showing that the cognitive abilities of nearly 3,500 civil servants who took part in the Whitehall II Study, particularly when it came to their verbal memory, decreased over time and more rapidly after retirement.  

The research, part of UCL's RenewL project looking at extended working lives, also found that those who worked in higher-grade jobs fared better than their peers while they were still working, but that this 'protection' was lost when they retired, backing up the idea that we need to 'use it or lose it'.

The researchers conclude that their findings are consistent with the theory of 'mental retirement' - suggesting that the work environment can be more mentally stimulating than the leisure environment as a retiree.