No time for the gym? Housework could save your life

I’m a writer (obviously), and one of the pitfalls of my job is what I like to call the “creeping sit.”

I can look up from my computer and realize it’s been hours since I’ve gotten up from my chair.

I know, there is lots of evidence that sitting too long, for too many hours of the day, is a killer.

But I have work to do.

And who has time to go to a gym? Especially in the winter. I’ll admit it, I’m just not a motivated exerciser.

But wait, what’s that you say? I can clean my house AND get health-boosting exercise at the same time?

If this is true, my family will certainly thank me when the dust disappears and the sink isn’t full of dishes.

Let’s take a look at the evidence …

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You don’t have to run a marathon

A recent study showed that a quarter of all Americans sit for more than eight hours a day.

The result: obesity, a heart muscle that isn’t exercised, brittle bones and more.

In a November 2017 study, Dr. Andrea LaCroix and her colleagues asked 6,000 women ages 65 to 99 to wear activity-tracking accelerometers for a week as they went about their daily activities. The women were followed for an average of three years.

Based on the data from the women’s activity trackers, the researchers found that those women who got at least 30 minutes of light physical activity a day were 12 percent less likely to die, compared to those who got less than 30 minutes.

Those who got an additional 30 minutes of moderate activity were 39 percent less likely to die.

Light physical activity includes just about anything other than sitting: washing dishes, walking to the mailbox, and doing laundry. Since these kinds of activities make up more than 55 percent of older adults’ days, Dr. LaCroix sees these study results as promising.

“We’ve always been told that this type of activity isn’t enough to do you good,” she says. “But what we have here is solid evidence that light physical activity reduces a woman’s risk of dying over the next three to four years — and we see the benefits are substantial and independent of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.”

In other words, you don’t have to run marathons or walk a treadmill to get healthier and live longer. You just have to keep your house clean.

More evidence that housework is good for you

This past November, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published their 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

On the surface, the recommendations are not that different from the last version, published in 2008. Aerobic, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening exercise are all deemed important. Older adults should do activities that improve their balance.

But the 2018 version of the Guidelines broadens the definition of what it means to be active. And that’s good news for people like me, who are not fans of formal exercise routines.

The updated Guidelines indicate that “individuals performing the least physical activity benefit most by even modest increases in moderate to vigorous physical activity.”

Translation: if I get up off the couch and vacuum for at least 30 minutes, my health may improve more drastically than it will for someone who hits the treadmill and sweats.

A 2017 Canadian study looked at 130,000 people in 17 countries and found that being physically active for at least 30 minutes a day extended their lifespan and significantly reduced illness.

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Activities like raking leaves or scrubbing the bathtub were considered physical activity.

This is in keeping with a long-term study conducted by Swedish researchers. They assessed 851 men and women over a period of 15 years.

When subjects replaced sedentary time with just 30 minutes a day of light-intensity physical activity, such as housework or walking, the risk of fatal cardiovascular disease was cut by 24 percent.

The ideal: a combination of activities

According to Richard Cotton, national director of certification at the American College of Sports Medicine, the ideal “exercise” routine will combine light activity like housework with more vigorous exercise, especially if weight loss is your goal.

Thirty minutes of vacuuming can’t compare to thirty minutes of stationary biking when it comes to burning calories. But including things you do normally in your daily life, such as cleaning or gardening, can only improve your physical fitness, and lengthen your life.

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  1. Want to Live Longer? Every Movement Counts, Even Cleaning the House — Time
  2. Housework can be as beneficial to your health as the gym, claims study — The Independent
  3. The effect of physical activity on mortality and cardiovascular disease in 130 000 people from 17 high-income, middle-income, and low-income countries: the PURE studyThe Lancet
  4. Replacing sedentary time with physical activity: a 15-year follow-up of mortality in a national cohortClinical Epidemiology
  5. — Time
  6. Does Housework Count As Exercise? — Live Science
Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.