Housework may promote health in old age, study suggests

Researchers suggest household chores like dusting, scrubbing floors and washing the windows can help adults stay healthy into old age.

A Singapore-based team of researchers wrote in the journal BMJ Open that regular physical activity improves physical and mental health, mitigates the risks and effects of chronic diseases, and reduces falls among older adults.

The team randomly recruited adults from the town of Yishun in Singapore, and asked them to complete cognitive function tests as well as activities to assess their physical capabilities, such as standing up from a chair as quickly as they could.

The amount of light housework, such as dusting, and the amount of heavy housework, such as floor-scrubbing, were assessed for their risk of having a fall, as well as measures such as knee extension strength.

The study involved people of all ages. Most of the people who reported doing heavy or light housework were women.

The team found that cognitive scores and attention scores were 8% and 14% higher for older adults doing high amounts of heavy housework compared to low levels.

Older adults who reported high amounts of heavy housework were less likely to have a fall.

The team found that cognitive scores were 5% higher for older adults who reported high levels of light housework, and that memory scores were also higher, compared with those who did low levels of such tasks.

Higher levels of education and higher functional abilities may be the reason why younger adults don't have the same findings as older adults.

Dr Shiou-Liang Wee, the co-author of the research from the Singapore Institute of Technology and Geriatric Education and Research Institute, said health messaging on staying active should not just be about physical activity.

Many older adults do housework. He said that heavy housework is linked to sharper memory and better falls protection in older adults.

Gill Livingston, professor of Psychiatry of older people at University College London, who was not involved in the work, said that the study had little meaning as people who are not so well may be expected to do less housework.

I think the advice would be that housework is good for your heart and brain. We can't draw any conclusions from this study.

The study relied on self-reported levels of household chores, which may be inaccurate, and did not fully take into account other factors which may influence the results, said Charlie Foster, professor of physical activity and public health at the University of Bristol.

He thinks asking people to be active by doing housework won't be one of the government's ways of promoting physical activity.