vaccuumI’m not sure why I keep being drawn to headlines about housework; maybe I’m subconsciously trying to psych myself up for pre-Christmas housecleaning. “Can Housework Help You Live Longer?” by Gretchen Reynolds, appeared recently on the New York Times Wellness pages, so naturally I took a look.

It’s not news that physical activity can increase wellness and longevity, but new studies are giving more precise detail about what types and amounts of exercise are most beneficial.

Researchers in Europe accessed a large database of health information that followed British civil servants (ages 35 to 55) for about ten years. At intervals workers filled out questionnaires about their health and physical activities. These ranged from “mild” (washing dishes or cooking), to “moderate” (gardening or brisk walking), and “vigorous” (swimming or mowing the yard).

Not surprisingly, the researchers found that any physical activity was better than none, and correlated with longer life. But further, a stronger association (with longevity) was found with those who engaged in intense activities, as opposed to those who engaged in mild activities (even if they spent more hours overall being mildly active).

Reynolds adds: 

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.

The researchers also tracked deaths among the group.

It turned out that the men and women who reported riding relatively hard (although none were racers) lived longer than those who rode at an easy pace, even if they weren’t pedaling for as many hours. On average, cyclists who regularly rode hard lived about four or five years longer than those who went at a more leisurely pace.

However, not all researchers agree that the key is intensity. Dr I-Min Lee, a Harvard Medical School professor, contends that overall energy expenditure is more important. Harvard researchers found that volunteers who met (governmental) recommendations of 150 minutes of moderate activity (like brisk walking) per week lived on average 3.4 years longer than people who didn’t exercise.

In what can only be good news for those of us who don’t seem to exercise as often as we should, the study found that the association between physical activity and longer life held true for study volunteers who exercised only occasionally.

“A very low level of activity, equivalent to 10 minutes per day of walking, was associated with a gain of almost two years of life expectancy,” says Steven Moore, a research fellow with the National Cancer Institute, who led the study.

In fact, he says, “maximum longevity was reached at a physical activity level equivalent to 65 minutes per day of walking, with no evidence for gains above this level of activity.”

What all of this suggests, Dr. Lee says, is “that physical activity, even at a modest level, can increase life expectancy.”

Ten minutes of hoovering (vacuuming) per day? I think I could handle that for starters. Not only should I incorporate more physical activity into my life, but my house constantly needs cleaning too. Everyone wins… except maybe the gym—but I wasn’t visiting there very often anyway. 

Mariette Ulrich is a homemaker and freelance writer. She lives in western Canada with her husband and six of their seven children. Mariette holds an Honours B.A. in English Literature...