Is Doing Housework Good for Your Brain?

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It may be time to reconsider our aversion to housecleaning.

Analyzing self-reported data from 489 adults ages 21 to 90, Singapore Institute of Technology associate professor Shiou Liang Wee, PhD, and his research team concluded that the more housework you do, the better your brain and body operate — especially as you grow older.

“Among older adults, housework is associated with higher cognitive function, specifically in attention and memory,” the researchers note in BMJ Open. “Housework PA (physical activity) is positively associated with functional health among community-dwelling older adults, independent of recreation and other nonrecreational PAs.”

Surprisingly, about two-thirds of the older study participants met their recommended quota of physical activity simply by tidying up the house on a regular basis. And that effort — even apart from any exercise regimen — can lead to a lower risk of falls and a general improvement in everyday mobility. It’s a practical and purposeful way to build strength and resilience.

On the cognitive front, the researchers note, more intense domestic chores (cleaning windows, painting, floor-washing, vacuuming) make a difference in specific areas. Those who reported doing such “heavy” cleaning, for instance, produced higher scores on tests measuring attention span than their less-ambitious counterparts, who scored higher on short-term-memory assessments.

It’s an observational study, so it doesn’t ascribe any cause and effect, but the findings are in line with earlier research on aerobic exercise and brain health in older adults. And there are plenty of studies demonstrating the salutary effects of exercise on mobility as we age.

“These results,” the researchers conclude, “collectively suggest that the higher cognition, physical, and sensorimotor functions related to heavy housework activities might plausibly be associated with lower physiological fall risk among community-dwelling older adults.”

So, next time you’re faced with an army of dust bunnies, a sink full of dirty dishes, and a cringeworthy stovetop, remember that the effort you expend while tidying up may produce not only a cleaner house but a healthier you.

This article originally appeared as “The Housework & Health Connection” in the June 2022 issue of Experience Life.

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