Household Chores and Brain Health


It is commonly known that physical activity is crucial in maintaining an optimum level of physical health and brain health. Research that has allowed us to conclude this fact though, has been focused on physical activities that have moderate or higher intensities. However, research is lacking in how low intensity movement, such as everyday physical activities, may help in promoting a healthier brain. 

This research is important as those who suffer from the various forms of dementia or have a higher risk of this disease will most likely be unable to perform these high intensity moves. We need to know how their day-to-day tasks, such as cleaning and cooking, may positively impact their brain health. Researchers at the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care carried out a study to determine how the amount of time spent on household chores affects brain size (the greater the size the higher the chance of strong cognitive health).

66 unimpaired older adults between the age of 65-85 years old participated in the study. They were free of conditions which could increase their likelihood of dementia such as using insulin as a treatment for diabetes, a previous history of strokes, and depressive disorders. The participants were examined in four different categories: health evaluation, cognitive assessment, structural imaging, and physical activity.

Health evaluation: Their blood pressure and a blood sample was taken to determine their risk of a cardiovascular disease.

Cognitive assessment: The participants had to complete different neuropsychological tests (these help diagnose neurological deficits) to test their memory, attention, executive function, and processing speed.

Structural imaging: This was to examine the brain and make note of any issues such as skull inclusions.

Physical activity: This portion gathered information on the physical activity that had been carried out over the last month by the participants. This was categorised into recreational and household activity. Recreational exercises included exercises such as swimming, bicycling, dancing, while household activities included tasks like cooking, cleaning, and shopping. The frequency of these exercises was measured by time (in minutes) taken to complete each exercise and the intensity was measured by how their breathing differentiated from rest. 

The results showed that age negatively impacted the amount of gray matter volume, while education positively impacted the working memory of the participants. Though sex did not play a significant role in the impact of physical activity on brain volume, women who participated in this study had a better memory. Household activity was positively associated with an increase in brain volume (gray matter) of the participants – the more frequent household activities are completed, the larger the volume of the brain. The study showed that both forms of exercise were not associated with the overall cognitive performance.

The effect of physical activity on brain volume. Household activity has a higher positive association with brain volume than recreational physical activity. Source: Household physical activity is positively associated with gray matter volume in older adults. Koblinsky et al.

This study showed that household physical activity was positively correlated with brain volume, as there was an increase in the amount of gray matter within those who partook in higher frequencies of household chores than those who participated with lower frequencies of household chores. This study is the first to identify the link between gray matter and household chores. This may be a major motivator to older adults to be more active, as household chores are lower in risk and are crucial for day to day living. 

Feature Image: Photo by Engin Akyurt, on Pexels

Original Source: Koblinsky, N.D., Meusel, LA.C., Greenwood, C.E. et al. Household physical activity is positively associated with gray matter volume in older adults. BMC Geriatr 21, 104 (2021).

Edited by Cyrus Rohani-Shukla

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