No evidence that housework as part of ‘active lifestyle’ is good for health

A dose of heavy housework will meet new recommended targets for daily physical activity levels, but there is no evidence that it is good for health, finds research in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Brisk walking is a much healthier option, shows the study.

Over the past 10 years, there has been shift in policy from recommending three bouts of vigorous exercise a week to more moderate activity that fits into a daily routine. This includes housework, gardening, and DIY, on the grounds that this confers health benefits and will be more feasible, especially for older people.

The researchers selected over 2300 women aged between 60 and 79 from 15 British towns. Previous research has indicated that most women in this age group are relatively inactive. The women all completed a detailed questionnaire on lifestyle and health, including any history of serious disease and treatments. Heart and lung function, and weight were also assessed. And the women were asked to indicate how much walking, including pace, cycling, fitness classes, sport, housework, gardening and DIY they did every week.

When heavy housework was included in the tally, over two thirds of the women reached recommended levels of physical activity. But when this was excluded, only one in five reached target levels. Poor health, heart or respiratory disease predicted low levels of physical activity, as did smoking, having a low income, and living in the north of England.

Women who walked briskly for 2.5 hours a week were much less likely to be obese; but no such effect was seen for heavy housework. Brisk walking was also associated with lower resting heart rate, a sign of cardiorespiratory fitness, but, again, no such effect was seen with housework.

The authors conclude that while the new recommendations on physical activity may be achievable by a larger proportion of the population, there is very little evidence that some of the suggested activities, such as housework, directly benefit health.

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