‘Housework helps you live longer’

Cleaning

GRETCHEN REYNOLDS

It's well known by now that active people typically live longer than those who are sedentary. But precisely what types or amounts of exercise most affect life span has not been clear. Several new studies, though, are beginning to provide some clarity, suggesting that certain activities may be better than others in terms of affecting mortality risk.

Perhaps the most memorable of the new studies was conducted by researchers in Europe who turned to a large database of health information about middle-aged British civil servants. The workers, ages 35 to 55 at the start, were followed for a decade or so, during which time they filled out repeated health questionnaires.

The topics included each man or woman's physical activity during the previous month. Specifically, the questionnaires asked about the number of hours that the volunteers had spent walking, gardening, performing housework, playing sports (swimming, cycling, golf or soccer) and puttering around the house completing yardwork and do-it-yourself repair projects.

Each activity was designated as "mild", like washing the dishes and cooking; "moderate", encompassing weeding and brisk walking; or "vigorous", which here included swimming and mowing the yard.

The researchers also checked death records for the civil servants.

They found that in general, physical activity of any kind was associated with longer life. But the association was much stronger among those people whose activities were relatively intense. Those who regularly painted and repaired their houses or walked briskly enjoyed more protection against premature death than those who washed dishes, even if people spent more overall hours engaged in "mild" activities.

That finding agrees with those of a study published this year in The European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, in which scientists in Copenhagen followed 5,106 adult recreational cyclists for about 18 years, asking their volunteers to occasionally report how many hours and how strenuously they were riding their bikes. Researchers also tracked deaths among the group.

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