It’s no secret that Americans are workaholics. Our national schedule for work isn’t particularly healthy. We work too long, take too few breaks, and don’t take enough vacation time.
But a new study has shown that we need to go even further with our efforts to relax. The report, published by the Melbourne Institute, shows that for people over the age of 40, the ideal workweek isn’t five days. It isn’t even four.
That’s right, people above the age of 40 are at top productivity if they work three days a week.
Most people probably wouldn’t have a problem with putting a more relaxed work schedule in place. However, it’s worth looking into the reasons behind the research. So, what are the things that affect productivity, and why does it make more sense to work less and relax more?
The study followed 6,500 participants of both sexes. The subjects performed a variety of tests to show their mental and cognitive abilities while working. Testers also reviewed the subjects’ memory capacity and executive and abstract reasoning while comparing against their general work habits and schedules.
These cognitive tests included time-sensitive reviews of things like matching quizzes and reading backward.
For people who worked up to 25 hours a week, the results improved with longer work times. After that, however, they quickly tanked across the board.
After 55 hours? People’s ability to think, reason, concentrate, and remember was pretty poor — in fact, it was on par with people who don’t work at all or are of retirement age.
Results like these show changes need to be made to how we work and how we view relaxation and time off.
And there’s a big push for Americans and other countries around the world to provide more vacation time, shorter workweeks, and a lower retirement age.
But other countries are going in the exact opposite direction.
“Many countries are going to raise their retirement ages by delaying the age at which people are eligible to start receiving pension benefits,” said Colin McKenzie, a Keio University professor and one of the co-authors of the study. “This means that more people continue to work in the later stages of their life. The degree of intellectual stimulation may depend on working hours. Work can be a double-edged sword, in that it can stimulate brain activity, but at the same time long working hours can cause fatigue and stress, which potentially damage cognitive functions.”
The study was conducted by experts based in Japan, another country that has frequent problems with overwork and workaholism.
A survey conducted by the Japanese government in 2016 showed that 25 percent of Japanese companies require massive amounts of overtime from their employees — sometimes as many as 80 overtime hours a month. These hours often don’t count for paid work, which means employees are working themselves ragged for literally nothing.
In fact, there’s an actual term in the Japanese language — and law — meaning “death due to overwork.”
While part-time work can be healthy for seniors, helping them keep their brain active and stimulated, too much of it for anyone can quickly become unhealthy. Studies show that stress has major detrimental effects on the way our brains work.
In fact, stress can literally change our brains physically.
“Cortisol is believed to create a domino effect that hard-wires pathways between the hippocampus and amygdala in a way that might create a vicious cycle by creating a brain that becomes predisposed to be in a constant state of fight-or-flight,” Christopher Bergland wrote in Psychology Today.
When we’re under chronic amounts of stress, our brain interprets it as constantly being in a dangerous situation. This can lead to anxiety disorders, depression, difficulty sleeping, and many physical illnesses and conditions.
Stress can also kill brain cells — literally.
This can lead to difficulties in concentration, memory, learning and retention, and social abilities. This makes stress a vicious cycle: Once it starts, its effects can go on and on, feeding even more stress.
What’s more, stress can have bad effects on the body as well as the brain. It can weaken your immune system, put pressure on your heart, and even cause musculoskeletal issues. This makes it especially concerning for older people, who already need to focus on their health.
So, is the answer to working too much to put a shorter workweek in place — even a three-day workweek? There are no conclusive answers yet. But we do know that we need to find more ways to relax and destress to avoid serious health problems in the future.
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