Say what?! As you might imagine, I did a double take when I read this headline in the Guardian last week: Housework may promote health in old age, study suggests. I’m definitely someone “in old age”, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read further or not. My first thought was, “What the …, that’s the last thing I want to hear.”
I’m happy to report that the results of this study haven’t been embraced by everyone, although the authors did have some ‘interesting’ observations to report.
First of all, I know you will all be surprised to learn that … ta da … most housework is done by, wait for it, women!! I hope these researchers weren’t awarded too large a grant for this work; most women could have told them this. According to my husband, it’s because only women see dust!
While most of us are aware that, as the study reminds us, regular physical activity “improves physical and mental health, mitigates the risks and effects of chronic diseases, and reduces falls, immobility, dependency and mortality among older adults”, I don’t think it has to follow that “… tasks like dusting, scrubbing floors and washing the windows …” need be the go-to regular physical activity. I am only guessing, but I think these researchers must have been young … and mostly male!
These were their findings:
After taking into account factors including age, sex, and the amount of light housework undertaken, the team found cognitive scores and attention scores were 8% and 14% higher respectively for older adults doing high amounts of heavy housework – on average 131 minutes a week – compared low levels, which appeared to amount to none at all.
Sit-to-stand times were lower for older adults reporting high amounts of heavy housework compared with low amounts, while they were also assessed as being at lower risk of having a fall.
The team also found cognitive scores were 5% higher for older adults who reported high levels of light housework – on average doing 902 minutes a week – and memory scores were also higher, compared with those undertaking low levels of such tasks, averaging 89 minutes a week.
902 minutes of light housework per week! That’s 15 hours. What light housework can take 15 hours per week? And washing windows, scrubbing floors and dusting for an average of 131 minutes per week (2 hours and 11 minutes) seems like a lot of heavy housework. These must be pretty dirty homes. Old people don’t get things that dirty, folks!
The good news is that for those old folks with very dirty homes who are heavily into cleanliness, all that housework you’re doing is paying off. You can stand up faster than the rest of us, and you should have a cognitive advantage in finishing off a crossword puzzle, if you can just tear yourself away from all that housework and sit down and pick up the crossword instead.
The best news is that the results of this research are not definitive. I was very relieved to read the concluding paragraph of this article, quoting Charlie Foster, a professor of physical activity and public health at the University of Bristol:
“I suspect asking people to be active by doing housework won’t be one of the government’s ways of promoting physical activity.”
Phew. I’ll stick with the gym!
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