While you may not look forward to chores like vacuuming the living room, washing dishes or ironing shirts, a new study suggests you should embrace them.
The research shows that these and other household chores will stop your brain from shrinking, and a bigger brain means better cognitive health. Here’s the story.
There are many studies linking exercise with better brain health in older folks, but many types of popular exercise aren’t something that a lot of people are willing or able to engage in.
On the other hand, you can keep the body moving by performing many ordinary activities of daily living, such as housework. The fact is, this kind of exercise is much more attainable for many people.
But, when it comes to brain health, is housework as good as exercise for the brain? Researchers from Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, Canada, went looking for the answer. What they found is great news…
Yes, Housework Boosts Gray Matter
For their study these researchers enrolled 66 cognitively healthy adults between the ages of 65 and 83. Each had a thorough health evaluation, took a battery of neuropsychological tests for memory, attention, executive function, and processing speed, as well as underwent brain imaging scans.
Each participant also engaged in Phone-FITT, which is considered a valid and reliable telephone questionnaire for the assessment of household and recreational activity. Questions on household activity included people’s frequency performing light housework (such as tidying, dusting, etc.), meal preparation and clean up, shopping, heavy housework (like deep cleaning), home maintenance (such as yard work and home repairs), and care giving.
After taking into account each participant’s age, gender, education, and cardiovascular health, the researchers discovered that those who spent more time on household chores had greater brain volumes, regardless of how much recreational exercise they did.
Brain’s Memory Centers Were Bigger
Gray matter, in particular, was bigger. This area includes the cerebral cortex, which is essential for attention, memory and thinking skills, and the cerebellum which is necessary for muscular control and coordination.
The hippocampus was also larger. This is a key memory and learning center of the brain. The study’s lead author, Noah Koblinsky, explained, saying, “Scientists already know that exercise has a positive impact on the brain, but our study is the first to show that the same may be true for household chores.
“Understanding how different forms of physical activity contribute to brain health is crucial for developing strategies to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia in older adults.”
The researchers provided several explanations for their findings.
Similar Cardiovascular Benefits to Low-Intensity Exercise
First, it’s known that cardiovascular health is closely tied to the health of the brain, and previous research suggests that everyday activities improve blood vessel health in a manner similar to that of low intensity aerobic exercise.
Second, many household chores involve anticipating needs, identifying options for filling them, making decisions, and monitoring progress. Such planning and organization increase neuroplasticity, the formation of new neural connections over time. This is known to take place even in old age.
The authors suggest that the wide range of tasks involved in housework “may share many of the same features as cognitive training.”
Third, the researchers say, it’s possible those engaged in more household activity spend less time sitting down. Prolonged sitting disrupts blood flow and is harmful to blood vessels. Spending much of the day seated is linked to brain atrophy and poor brain health even among those who go to the gym.
Another reason to change your attitude about completing housework? A positive attitude matters to your brain health.
Research suggests that consistently engaging in negative thinking is linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Memory researchers believe that we can all benefit from positivity. So, don’t think of routine household activities as chores but as another way to exercise your body and your brain.