Start “spring cleaning” today!
Daffodils, tulips, and other spring flowers may be starting to pop up in your backyard. But it may be hard to tell, as the winter grime coating our windows can obscure the view.
Indeed, at this time of year, it’s typical to think of spring cleaning. And beyond having a clear vista to admire Nature, there are many benefits to a spic-and-span indoor environment.
In fact, studies show that being in a clean and organized setting can lower your stress levels…and even improve your diet.
Not to mention, spring cleaning is an easy way to add more physical activity to your life. Plus, these daily, routine tasks help protect and preserve muscle mass and strength—which is key for longevity.
But let’s face it: Cleaning windows, sweeping floors, and making beds can be tedious—and not exactly at the top of your long to-do list.
That’s why I was pleased to see yet another reason why engaging in this type of activity is a good idea…
A new study shows that performing routine household chores can not only help keep older adults physically fit, but also mentally fit. And, as I often report, this benefit helps people live independently for longer periods of time.
Let’s take a closer look.
The effects of housework on different age groups
The study investigated whether doing housework could contribute to health by supporting mental and physical activity among adults (including older adults) in a relatively high economic-status country like Singapore (where many people may have a choice not to perform their own household chores).1
The researchers randomly selected 489 adults with no cognitive problems and four or fewer underlying health conditions. All participants were living on their own within one large residential area in Singapore.
The participants were divided into two age groups: 21 to 64 years old, with an average age of 44; and 65 to 90 years old, with an average age of 75.
The researchers began by assessing the participants’ walking speed (gait) and the amount of time it took them to get up from being seated in a chair. (These measures are good indicators of leg strength and potential fall risk.) The researchers also assessed other physiological factors related to the risk of falling.
The study participants also underwent cognitive-function tests that evaluated attention span, language, memory (short-term and delayed), and visual-spatial abilities.
Then, the participants reported how much physical activity they performed daily, including the frequency and intensity of their household chores.
These chores were divided into light and heavy housework. Light housework was defined as cooking, dusting, laundry, making beds, and general cleaning and washing up. Heavy housework included changing bedsheets, cleaning windows, and vacuuming, as well as interior decorating and painting.
After assessing all of this data, the researchers found that 36 percent of the participants in the younger group and 48 percent in the older group met daily physical activity recommendations through recreational exercise alone. (See the sidebar on page 3 for more insight into how daily step counts contribute to good health, too.)
But, interestingly, most of the participants achieved the daily physical activity goals just by doing housework. This included 61 percent of the younger age group and 66 percent of the older age group.
A direct link between age and the benefits of housework
Along with assessing how frequently the study participants engaged in housework, the researchers also measured how different types of housework affected the two age groups’ mental and physical strength.
After adjusting for other types of physical activity, the people in the older group who did heavy housework had an 8 percent improvement in cognitive function. And even light housework accounted for a 5 percent boost in cognitive function in the same group.
In addition, there were links between housework intensity and specific cognitive functions. In the older age group, heavy housework was associated with a 14 percent higher attention score, while light housework was associated with a 12 percent increase in short-term memory and an 8 percent increase in delayed memory.
On the physical front, sit-to-stand times in the older group improved by 8 percent. Plus, balance and coordination scores improved by 23 percent in the older, heavy housework group. This resulted in better leg strength, which ultimately helps reduce falls and fractures.
Overall, the research revealed that doing household chores regularly helps keep memory and attention span sharp. And it shows that housework supports the fitness of older people regardless of any other kind of physical activity they may do throughout the day.
Of course, while spring cleaning and housework involve a lot of indoor activity, there are additional benefits to getting outdoors, too…
More sunlight means more health benefits
A new study shows that women who have outdoor jobs are less likely to develop breast cancer—the No. 1 cancer in women.2
Of course, being outdoors involves exposure to sunshine. (Even when it’s cloudy, there’s still exposure to some ultraviolet rays.) And more sunlight means more vitamin D production—which is key for reducing the risk of virtually every chronic disease, including breast cancer.
Scientists at the University of Copenhagen and the Danish Cancer Society believe the rising incidence of breast cancer over the last half-century is due at least in part to increasing rates of vitamin D deficiency. They conducted what they said was the first study to investigate the association between workplace exposure to sunlight and breast cancer diagnoses.
The researchers identified 38,375 Danish women under the age of 70 who had been diagnosed with primary breast cancer. They then compared each of these cases with cancer-free women born in the same years.
The researchers assessed all of the women’s employment histories, and used a workplace exposure scale to evaluate how each woman’s job gave her access to sunlight.
After taking into account influential risk factors like reproductive history, the researchers found that overall breast cancer risk after the age of 50 was significantly lower in the women who had long-term occupational exposure to sunlight.
In fact, workplace sun exposure for 20 or more years was associated with an impressive 17 percent lower risk of breast cancer. And the highest amount of cumulative sun exposure was associated with a 11 percent lower risk.
The researchers said outdoor activities like working, gardening, and walking the dog have long been known to expose people to more sunlight, greater vitamin D levels, and lower risk of cancer, infections, and other diseases, too. (These powerful health benefits simply get short shrift from [largely misplaced] concerns about sun and skin cancer, along with increasing use of computers and devices for both work and recreation.)
So even if you don’t work outside professionally, you can—and should—add outdoor activity to that daily chore list to reap some major health benefits. After all, cleaning your windows, mopping your floors, dusting your bookshelves, making your bed, or even just walking the dog have many health benefits. This makes household chores an important part of the 140 to 150 minutes of moderate, weekly physical activity that study after study shows supports health and longevity, year-round.
[EXPOSED] The 10,000 steps per day myth
Research shows that people take about 2,000 steps a day doing routine physical activity, including household chores. And that number is significantly less than the 10,000 steps we keep hearing is best for good health.
Many people invoke 10,000 steps as some kind of medically established credo. But, as I’ve written before, this magic number doesn’t come from research, scientific data, or medical observations. Nor does it come from doctors, health professionals, or even physical trainers.
Instead, it’s based on a half-century-old marketing campaign for a Japanese pedometer.
Around the time of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, when fitness was all the rage in Japan, a pedometer called manpo-kei was introduced. Manpo-kei loosely transliterates to “10,000 steps meter” in English. And the Japanese alphabet character for “10,000” roughly resembles a walking stick figure.
This launched a great marketing campaign whose 10,000-step premise persists to this day. There was no science behind it, but the message was that simply walking is good exercise (in an era when people started thinking they needed to be running daily marathons, which actually turned out to be quite disastrous for good health, as I often report).
To bring some actual science into the picture, a new study recently analyzed seven prior studies in which participants’ daily step counts were compared with their cardiovascular health.3
The studies involved 16,906 adults. Researchers tracked how many of those people were diagnosed with heart disease, heart failure, or a stroke over a median period of more than six years.
The analysis showed that the number of steps to create benefits for heart health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease is significantly lower than the “magic number” of 10,000 steps per day. Instead, it’s around 5,000 to 6,000 steps per day. (And remember, you already get in a couple thousand just by doing routine daily living.)
Interestingly, that’s the equivalent of about 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, which other studies consistently show is optimal for health. Now that’s a good step to take—and one I can stand behind.
- “Cross-sectional associations of housework with cognitive, physical and sensorimotor functions in younger and older community-dwelling adults: the Yishun Study.” BMJ Open. 2021 Nov 22;11(11):e052557.
- “Occupational exposure to solar ultraviolet B radiation and risk of subtypes of breast cancer in Danish women.” Occup Environ Med. 2021 Apr;78(4):286-292