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Workplace learning could be a boon for wellness, research shows

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Learning and development in the workplace could be a boon for wellness, new research suggests. Doing cognitively demanding work can delay the onset of brain decline and even dementia at an older age, according to the study published April 17 in the journal Neurology. 

On the other hand, having a job with routine tasks and limited mental stimulation during ages 30-65 was linked to a 37% greater risk of dementia after age 70, the study authors found.

“This study supports the ‘cognitive reserve hypothesis,’ which basically states that the more you use your brain during early and mid-life, the better equipped you are to ward off dementia and cognitive decline later in life,” senior author Bjørn Heine Strand, a researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, said in a statement.

Strand and colleagues looked at cognitive decline and dementia among 7,000 participants enrolled in Norway’s HUNT4 70+ study, categorizing 305 occupations by their “routine task intensity” based on cognitive demand. Overall, people with jobs that ranked higher in routine tasks had higher risks for cognitive impairment and dementia.

Although more research is needed to determine which workplace cognitive demands provide the most benefit, the study findings point to the importance of lifelong learning, the study authors wrote.

“This shows that it is never too late, or a waste of time, to start learning something new. All cognitively demanding activities later in life contribute to strengthening one’s cognitive reserve,” lead author Trine Holt Edwin, a researcher at Oslo University Hospital in Norway, said in a statement.

Learning and development opportunities may provide that mental stimulation and, according to a report from Salary.com, can also boost employee engagement and reduce turnover. Upskilling around in-demand “soft skills” — particularly problem solving, decision making and effective communication — may offer fulfillment and close skills gaps.

Cross-training, which may also help workers build cognitive demand, can further broaden workers’ skill sets and provide scheduling flexibility, according to Walmart executives, who have launched an initiative to cross-train store associates. The program is based on similar efforts at Sam’s Club and Neighborhood Market locations, where cross-training has become a major part of the company’s future talent strategy.

As an alternative to typical L&D programs, job shadowing can improve internal mobility and provide a low-cost alternative to other training methods, according to a report from McLean & Co. During shadowing, employees can preview career paths and practice new skills while hosts gain mentorship abilities and networking opportunities, the report found.

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