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Household chores can improve brain health in older adults

Engaging in daily chores around the house may be beneficial to cognitive health. In a recent study, researchers discovered that older adults who spent more time on household chores showed greater brain size.

Study lead author Noah Koblinsky is an exercise physiologist and project coordinator in the Rotman Research Institute (RRI) at Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care

“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,” said Koblinsky.

“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 examined the potential links between household chores, brain volume, and cognition among 66 older adults. The study involved three assessments at Baycrest Hospital, including a health evaluation, structural brain imaging, and a cognitive assessment.

The participants reported on how much time they spent on household chores, such as tidying, dusting, meal preparation, shopping, heavy housework, yard work, home repairs, and caregiving.

The analysis revealed that older adults who spent more time busy with household chores had greater brain volume, regardless of exercise. 

The boost in brain volume was observed in two critical brain regions: the hippocampus, which plays a major role in memory and learning; and in the frontal lobe, which is involved in many aspects of cognition.

While it is possible that individuals with bigger brains are simply drawn to household chores, there are other explanations for the link between brain size and household physical activity.

First off, heart health is closely tied to brain health. It could be that household chores have a similar effect on the heart and blood vessels as low-intensity aerobic exercise, according to the researchers.

In addition, the planning and organization involved in household chores may promote the formation of new neural connections over time, even as we age.

Furthermore, older adults who engage in more household chores are spending less time being sedentary and more time staying active. Sedentary behavior has been tied to poor brain health.

“Besides helping to guide physical activity recommendations for older adults, these findings may also motivate them to be more active, since household chores are a natural and often necessary aspect of many people’s daily lives, and therefore appear more attainable,” said Dr. Nicole Anderson.

The study is published in the journal BMC Geriatrics.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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