October 30, 2013
News Review From Harvard Medical School -- Active Chores, Hobbies May Cut Death Risk
Even ordinary activities, such as housework or gardening, may help to reduce people's risk of early death, a new study finds. Researchers interviewed more than 3,800 people. All were aged 60 or older. They answered questions about diet, drinking, smoking and physical activity. Besides formal exercise, people were asked about everyday activities. Examples included gardening, housework, home projects and car maintenance. Doctors examined everyone. They also took blood samples. These were used to check for blood sugar and cholesterol levels and other factors that might affect health. Researchers kept track of people for 12 years. In that time, people who had a lot of everyday activity were 27% likely to die of a heart attack or stroke than the least active people. They were 30% less likely to die of any cause. Risks of heart attack, stroke and death declined further among those who also engaged in regular exercise. All of these numbers had been adjusted to account for other factors that might affect their risk. The British Journal of Sports Medicine published the study online. HealthDay News wrote about it October 29.
By Reena L. Pande, M.D.
Harvard Medical School
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
We are reminded yet again of the power of movement.
A new study from Sweden tells us that just moving, even if it's only housework or tending the garden, may reduce the risk of heart disease.
The researchers kept track of nearly 3,800 men and women older than age 60 for about 12 years. Over that time, people who were active in their daily lives were 30% less likely to have heart problems or stroke than people who spent the least amount of time on their feet. Daily activity could be anything from gardening, housework and do-it-yourself projects to even car maintenance.
Regular, traditional exercise was still important. In fact, those people who did regular exercise and were also active in daily life had the lowest risk of heart disease and stroke.
What Changes Can I Make Now?
It turns out that sitting is just plain dangerous for your health. A growing body of research shows that the more you sit, the higher your risk of dying. This is true even for people who get regular exercise. Combined with what we know about the health benefits of activity, this research makes it clear that it's important to try to sit less and move more.
And that doesn't mean just traditional exercise. It means regular activity, even in your routine daily life. In fact, this may be particularly important for older adults, who may find it challenging to do regular exercise.
So how can you be more active? Here are some ideas:
- Limit screen time. You thought this was just for kids? Well, adults also need to step away from their screens. In today's technology-crazy world, we find ourselves (older adults included) glued to our devices. It might be the TV, a computer, a tablet or a cell phone. Set yourself a limit. Then, when you reach it, shut it down and get up.
- Clean up. Doing housework was enough to lower risk of heart disease. Make your bed, mop the floor, vacuum or fold the laundry.
- Smell the roses. Tending the garden was also enough activity to produce a benefit. Next spring, plant some seeds and watch them grow. Do some weeding, mulching and pruning. Besides the activity, you'll also feel better eating fresh vegetables straight from your garden or looking at the flowers you grew in a vase on the kitchen table.
- Stand up. We tend to sit while doing everything. Stand while talking on the phone. Put the laptop on a counter and stand while you use it. Stand while watching TV. You don't necessarily have to be moving. It turns out that anything is better than sitting.
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
Our Western society is increasingly geared toward sitting still. But we continue to learn more about the dangers of being inactive. Exercise is great, important and beneficial. But there are also major benefits in just being active in your daily life. Sometimes we just need a reminder to get up and go. You won't regret it.