Plot Twist: Boring Chores Like Washing Dishes Might Actually Benefit Heart Health

It’s easy to brush off chores as huge wastes of time, or as time-consuming items that weigh down your to-do list, but new research suggests they might actually make an impact on your overall health—that’s the main takeaway from a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers tracked 5,416 older women between the ages of 63 and 97 and had them wear a research-grade accelerometer for up to seven days to measure how much time they were active. The researchers also kept tabs on what the women did while they went about their day-to-day activities. That included tracking chores like washing dishes, gardening, cooking, and showering.

During the study period, 616 women were diagnosed with heart disease and 268 with coronary heart disease. The researchers also found that 253 had a stroke and 331 died of cardiovascular disease. But the risk of heart issues was much lower for participants who were active. Women who moved for at least four hours a day had a 43 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease, 43 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease, 30 percent lower risk of stroke, and a 62 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease, compared to those who moved less than two hours a day.

While previous research has looked at the impact of movements like walking and running on heart health, this study specifically analyzed any kind of movement.

“All movement is good for your heart.” — Jennifer Wong, MD,

Lead study author Steve Nguyen, PhD, MPH, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California San Diego Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health, says he and his colleagues wanted to look at the impact of overall activity on heart heat because current guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “focus mostly on higher-intensity activities such as exercise” which aren’t doable for everyone, including older adults.

“Understanding the extent to which daily activities can prevent chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease can help modify those physical activity recommendations to be more inclusive and motivating” for people who aren’t interested in or able to do more intense exercises, Dr. Nguyen says.

Can something as simple as chores boost your heart health

“Our hearts—and the rest of the cardiovascular system—respond to movement regardless of the source of the movement, whether it’s walking for exercise or during daily life movement,” Dr. Nguyen says. That causes your muscles to be activated and more calories burned, along with changes in heart rate, and improvements in blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol, he says. And, he points out, all of these are factors that can help your heart health, he says.

In general, “any physical activity can improve cardiovascular outcomes,” says Jennifer Wong, MD, a cardiologist and medical director of Non-Invasive Cardiology at MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.

If you have to choose between chores, Dr. Nguyen recommends opting for things like heavy gardening and light housework (think: vacuuming, folding laundry, cooking, and dusting). His study found that these had the most bang for your cardiovascular buck. “However, the best activity for an individual to increase their daily life movement could depend on their circumstances and preferences,” he says. “Any movement will be beneficial compared to no movement.”

In a perfect world, Dr. Wong says that you’d meet the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ recommended 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise, along with being active in your day-to-day life. Still, if you’re not physically able to get in regular workouts but you can be active throughout your day, she says that can be helpful, too. “All movement is good for your heart,” Dr. Wong says.

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