Washing dishes, household chores can significantly slash heart disease risk for older women

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Washing the dishes and other household chores can slash an older women’s risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by almost two thirds, a new study finds. Researchers from the University of California-San Diego add cooking, vacuuming, gardening, and even showering can protect against the world’s number one killer.

The study reveals those who spent four hours a day performing “daily life movements” were 62 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular or coronary heart disease. Participants were also 43 percent less likely to develop either condition and 30 percent less likely to suffer a stroke.

This was compared to peers who participated in under two hours of daily life movements. Study authors explain that exercising muscles need blood, so simply being “up and about” improves circulation.

“The study demonstrates that all movement counts towards disease prevention,” says first author Dr. Steve Nguyen in a media release. “Spending more time in daily life movement, which includes a wide range of activities we all do while on our feet and out of our chairs, resulted in a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Physical activity doesn’t have to happen in a gym

Running or brisk walking is not the only way for seniors to boost heart and artery health, according to the UC San Diego team. The findings come from a review of 5,416 healthy women in the U.S. between 63 and 97 years-old. Using AI (artificial intelligence), the team classified each minute spent while awake into one of five behaviors.

They included sitting, sitting in a vehicle, standing still, walking or running, and daily life movements. The last category encompasses activities when standing and walking within a room to do things including getting dressed, preparing meals, or gardening.

Participants wore an accelerometer on their waist for up to seven days to accurately record common movements. Previous studies on light and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity have typically focused on running and brisk walking. Dr. Nguyen and colleagues analyzed a variety of pursuits with varying levels of intensity — like cooking.

Daily chores study

“Much of the movement engaged in by older adults is associated with daily life tasks, but it may not be considered physical activity,” adds senior author Professor Andrea LaCroix. “Understanding the benefits of daily life movement and adding this to physical activity guidelines may encourage more movement.”

Researchers tracked the women for almost eight years, from May 2012 to February 2020. During the study, 616 received a diagnosis with cardiovascular disease. Another 268 developed coronary heart disease, 253 had a stroke, and 331 died.

“Describing the beneficial associations of physical activity in terms of common behaviors could help older adults accumulate physical activity,” study authors write in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

“Our results are noteworthy since much of the movement engaged in by older adults is associated with daily life tasks, which may not be considered PA (physical activity) by older adults themselves or by questionnaires.”

‘All movement counts’

Nguyen’s team says older adults may have difficulty engaging in traditional exercise because of frailty and uncertainty about other options. Daily life movements (DLM) can be done in the home, which could be more accessible than walking, for instance, where environmental factors such as pavements may influence participation.

The study showed higher amounts, summarized as “being up and about,” had a connection to a lower risk of major cardiovascular events or deaths among older women. The findings suggest “all movement counts” towards prevention. Researchers call for further trials in other groups, including men, to confirm the results.

“Nonetheless, DLM should be promoted given its ubiquity in everyday life and relatively low risk.” the researchers write in their study. “To determine the scope of potential health benefits of DLM, future research should test associations with other aging‐related outcomes.”

“Healthcare providers and future national physical guidelines should consider describing the health benefits of PA in terms of common behaviors resulting in PA, such as DLM, which could help older adults accumulate PA.”

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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