Objectives: This study was designed to explain changes in work ability through occupational and life-style factors.
Methods: Work ability was measured by an index describing workers' health resources in regard to their work demands. The work factors mainly included physical and mental demands, social organization and the physical work environment. The life-style factors covered smoking, alcohol consumption, and leisure-time physical exercise. The first questionnaire study was done in 1981 and it was repeated in 1992. The subjects (N = 818) were workers in the 44- to 51-year-old age group in the beginning of the study who were active during the entire follow-up. The improvement and, correspondingly, the decline in work ability were analyzed by logistic regression models.
Results: Both the improvement and the decline in work ability were associated more strongly with changes in work and life-style during the follow-up than with their initial variation. The model for improved work ability included improvement of the supervisor's attitude, decreased repetitive movements at work, and increased amount of vigorous leisure-time physical exercise. Deterioration in work ability was explained by a model which included a decrease in recognition and esteem at work, decrease in workroom conditions, increase in standing at work, and decrease in vigorous leisure-time physical exercise.
Conclusions: Social relations at work can promote or impair the work ability of elderly workers. Although the work ability of elderly workers generally declined with aging, both older and younger workers were also able to improve their work ability.