Health & Medical Public Health

Does Doing Housework Keep You Healthy?

Does Doing Housework Keep You Healthy?


Current United Kingdom physical activity guidelines suggest that adults should undertake 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week. Despite the health benefits associated with physical activity more than half of the population fail to meet the current recommended activity levels known to enhance health. In an effort to encourage sedentary individuals to engage in at least some physical activity, emphasis has shifted from promoting structured forms of exercise and physical activity to lifestyle activities which can form part of a normal daily routine. This shift is based on the assumption that promoting such activity will persuade more people to become active and eventually reach levels of physical activity which meet the current guidelines. Accordingly, physical activity promotional campaigns have encouraged people to look for opportunities during normal daily life to incorporate activity into their daily routines ( This lifestyle approach to physical activity includes the promotion of domestic physical activities such as do-it-yourself or home maintenance, gardening and housework. Although cross-sectional and cohort studies have shown that domestic physical activity is associated with reduced all-cause mortality the evidence for an association between this type of activity and cardiovascular disease risk has been equivocal. An analysis of survey data from 30 European countries has shown that domestic physical activity is only weakly associated with measures of health (self-rated health and BMI) compared to leisure time physical activity.

Besson and colleagues (2008) have shown that while intense domestic physical activities (>5METS) are associated with a reduction in all-cause mortality among older adults when these more intense activities are removed from the analysis the association between domestic activity and all-cause mortality disappears highlighting the importance of intensity of activity as an important mediator of the health benefits of activity. Although it is widely acknowledged that any activity is better than none, particularly when such activity replaces sedentary behaviours, there is a danger that those undertaking routine domestic 'chores' may assume that this activity is moderate intensity and therefore counts towards this 150 minute per week target. While some laboratory studies have shown that certain domestic physical activities such as sweeping, window cleaning, vacuuming and lawn mowing performed at a self-selected pace are moderate intensity for middle aged or older women there is large variability between individuals in the intensity at which such activities are performed. If domestic physical activity is widely promoted as health enhancing and individuals believe that such activity is likely to result in improved health it may displace other activity known to be moderate intensity and more unequivocally linked to reduced disease risk. This issue may be particularly important for women – as domestic physical activity has been shown to make a larger contribution to total physical activity in females.

Excess body weight for height is now regarded as a significant population health issue with the proportion of individuals classified as overweight or obese rising in most developed countries. Being overweight or obese is now recognised as an important risk factor for many chronic diseases and has been shown to increase all-cause mortality while leanness is associated with reduced risk. Cross-sectional studies have shown strong inverse associations between physical activity and body weight. However, when observations are limited to domestic physical activity there is often little or no association with overweight and obesity.

The aims of this paper are to determine the contribution of domestic physical activity to meeting current physical activity guidelines in the Northern Ireland population, and to explore the relationship between domestic physical activity and leanness in this population.

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