HEART
October 30, 2013

Do-It-Yourselfers Live Longer

Fixing things around your house doesn’t just help your house stay in shape – it can do the same for your heart.

If you want to stay healthy, do it yourself. Even simple household activities, like mopping the floor and other chores, help the cardiovascular system.

It may be hard to believe that a leaky faucet could be good for your health, but those annoying, routine, “do-it-yourself” activities around the house — whether you're fixing, cleaning, or gardening — reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Researchers followed almost 4,000 60-year olds for more than 12 years. At the beginning of the study, participants were asked about the kinds of daily activities they did — for example, home repairs, mowing the lawn, fixing the car, bike-riding, fishing/hunting, and picking berries or gardening.

Sitting reduces the number of times muscle contractions occur during a given period, which can prevent hormones from functioning normally.

Over the study's 12 years, 476 people experienced a cardiac event. But those who were most active in their daily activities had a 27% reduced risk of having heart attack or stroke, and 30% had a reduced risk of death from any cause compared to people who did the least.

What was striking was that these results were found regardless of how much “real” exercise the participants engaged in.

One explanation, according to the authors, is that doing these simple household activities reduces how much time you spend sitting, something that has been associated with serious health risks.

That's because sitting reduces the number of times your muscles contract during any given period. These contractions keep the body's various hormones functioning normally. So, the authors suggest, it may be through these hormone circuits that the body organs — heart included — are affected by being sedentary.

Being more active, even in the smallest ways, keeps the muscle moving more regularly, which in turn helps regulate the many hormone cascades that keep body systems running.

“Our findings are particularly important for older adults because individuals in this age group tend, compared to other age groups, to spend a relatively greater proportion of their active day performing [routine activities] as they often find it difficult to achieve recommended exercise intensity levels,” the authors write.

Simply by encouraging their older patients to do a little more housework, walk instead of drive whenever possible, and engage in more active leisure-time activities like fishing or gardening, doctors could reduce the global disease burden, the researchers believe.

If you’re not able to exercise as regularly as you once did, try as much as you can to keep active in as many other ways as possible. Unload the dishwasher, do some laundry, sweep the walk, prune the roses. Just being up and about is doing something good for your heart and longevity.

The study was carried out by a team at The Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences, and Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden. It is published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine.

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