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Fit for work in midlife, active in old age: Work ability in midlife predicts old age well-being

02 February 2011 Suomen Akatemia (Academy of Finland)

According to a new study, poor work ability in midlife predicts earlier death and disability in old age. So it is worthwhile to take good care of your work ability if you hope to stay fit in old age.

We found that poor work ability in midlife predicted among men and disability among women in old age even after adjustments for health and lifestyle factors, says Dr. Mikaela von Bonsdorff from the Gerontology Research Centre at the University of Jyväskylä.

The study of Dr. von Bonsdorff and her colleagues gives us new information about the relation between work ability in midlife and well-being in old age. The results are significant since the workforce in Western countries is growing old at an alarmingly fast pace.

- Poor work ability of middle-aged employees could be considered as an early warning sign of decline in functioning in old age, Dr. Mikaela von Bonsdorff points out.

Poor work ability correlates logically with the decline in old age health and functioning, while both reflect the relation between a person's capacity to perform activities and the demands posed by their age-appropriate role in society.

- However, by adjusting the demands of our environment, we can better address potential functional inabilities both in working age and in old age, says the twin sister, Dr. Monika von Bonsdorff.

In a 28-year follow-up, Finnish researchers studied middle-aged white-collar and blue-collar employees to see if a person's work ability in midlife might predict their risk of death or disability. Nearly 6000 employees reported on their perceived work ability as part of a population-based study hosted by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. The risks showed similar gradients among blue- and white-collar employees, but the risk of death was generally higher among blue-collar employees.

The study was carried out by a group of researchers from the Gerontology Research Centre at the University of Jyväskylä, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and University of Tampere.

The study was funded by the Academy of Finland, and the results were published in Canadian Medical Association Journal on 31 January 2011.

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