Household chores are often a dreaded task, but recent research has revealed that they may be an important part of staying healthy.
In fact, spending 30 minutes a day doing chores that get you active could cut your risk of dying from any cause by 28%. Even chores that aren’t as physically demanding have other benefits for your mind and body.
Here’s a look at why you might want to volunteer for more housework instead of avoiding it and which chores have the biggest impact on your health.
Household Chores Can Help You Live Longer
One of the biggest reasons doing everyday chores can boost your health is because they get you up and moving.
You may have recently heard this phrase: “Sitting is the new smoking.”
This idea comes from research on the detrimental effects a sedentary lifestyle — mainly too much sitting — can have on your health.
Researchers still aren’t sure why, but this habit of prolonged sitting increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and other diseases. It can also increase pain in your body because muscles and joints stiffen with inactivity.
There are many reasons why people are sitting for much longer periods than they used to, but changes in job type are a big factor.
Work used to center more around physical labor, and workers were kept on their feet for much of the day. Now, many more people are sitting in front of computers to do their work and often go home to sit down and stare at another screen.
Where Chores Come In
A large international study from 2017 has shed some light on how activities like performing simple household chores can reverse some of the negative effects of sedentary living.
It involved over 130,000 people from 17 different countries. The idea of the study was to build off of previous research that documented how leisure-time physical activity was able cut the risk of heart disease and death.
The previous results were from high-income countries where many people are able to participate in leisure-time activity. However, this largely didn’t apply to middle- and low-income countries where people are much less likely to be involved in leisure activities.
With this in mind, researchers decided to take into account any type of physical activity: exercising at a gym, having a physically demanding job, doing chores around the house, etc.
The results were clear. Doing any type of activity for 30 minutes each day was enough to reduce the risk of heart disease by 20% and the risk of death from any cause by 28%. It didn’t matter whether the activity was an intense workout at the gym or vacuuming the floor.
Given the fact that 1 in 4 people worldwide (and nearly 3 in 4 in countries like Canada) don’t get enough activity each day, setting aside 30 minutes to complete housework that needs done anyway could be your ticket to a longer life.
Health Benefits of Specific Household Chores
Obviously, any chore that gets you physically active is good for your health and longevity. However, research has pinpointed some specific chores that may be especially good for you.
Here’s a look at what they are and what benefit you can expect.
#1- Make Your Bed to Increase Productivity
Making the bed may seem like a small task, but it can set you up to have a more productive day.
This seemingly insignificant habit has been made much of by bestselling authors like Charles Duhigg and William H. McCraven. Both place emphasis on how this morning chore sets you up to accomplish more throughout the day.
The idea is that the small sense of accomplishment you get from tidying your bed sends a feel-good signal to your brain that encourages more productivity.
A poll conducted by Best Mattress Brand reveals more details about bed-making and a better day. Of the 1000 people surveyed, 82% of bed-makers said completing this small task made them more productive throughout the day. They were also 25% more likely to feel accomplished at the end of the day than non-bed makers.
Interestingly, bed-makers were more likely to be very productive at work as well.
If that doesn’t have you convinced, a poll from the National Sleep Foundation found that making the bed meant a 19% better chance of sleeping well at night. Not bad for a simple, quick chore!
#2- Tidy the Kitchen for Better Weight Loss
Clutter, especially in the kitchen, appears to be connected to a greater risk of being overweight. If you’ve ever struggled with your weight, putting a clean kitchen at the top of your list of household chores could make a bigger difference than you think.
Research for this connection is cited in a book by Peter Walsh: Lose Clutter, Lose Weight.
Part of the premise for his book is a study showing that people living in extreme clutter are 77% more likely to be overweight. The exact reason for this is still to be determined, but there are two likely theories.
The first is that living in a cluttered environment induces stress, which in turn can trigger stress-induced eating. A study from 2010 indicated that women who perceived their homes as being cluttered had increased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) throughout the day.
Another possible factor is that an untidy kitchen can make it more difficult to plan healthy meals that support weight loss. Organization makes good eating habits and losing weight easier to achieve.
#3- Mindfully Wash Dishes to Lower Anxiety
Dishwashers save you time, effort, and perhaps a dislike of washing dishes by hand. However, you may be missing out on some stress relief by allowing a machine to do this chore for you.
A study from Florida State University found that washing dishes can calm your mind and relieve stressful feelings.
There’s just one catch- you have to wash your dishes mindfully. This means focusing on what you’re doing- the smell of the dish soap, the warmth of the water, etc.- instead of just rushing to get the task done.
Participants in the study who practiced this type of mindfulness not only experienced decreased nervousness, they also had increased mental inspiration after completing the task.
So even if washing dishes isn’t one of your favorite households chores, focusing on what you’re doing as you wash them can actually be a stress-reliever at the end of a long day.
#4- Tend a Garden to Reduce Depression and Relieve Stress
There’s a lot of research showing that gardening has many positive effects. For many people, it’s an enjoyable hobby rather than a chore. But even if you don’t find tending a garden all that fun, it can still be good for your health.
In studies, one of the biggest therapeutic benefits of gardening is a reduction in symptoms of depression.
A 12-week study from Norway explored whether 6 hours of gardening each week could help participants with different forms of depression. The results were very positive. Depression severity declined significantly and overall symptoms improved. This improvement even lasted for months after the study ended!
Of course, you don’t have to suffer from depression to get healthier by gardening.
Other research shows that working in a garden has benefits for overall health and specifically for relieving stress and anxiety. The physical work is good for your heart and for weight loss, and the soothing effects of nature are great for mental health.
The bottom line?
Even if you only plant a few vegetables or flowers, get your hands in the dirt to boost your health!
#5- Clean Up Your Yard (and House) for Better Heart Health
Yard work is one of those household chores that can boost your heart health and longevity by getting you moving. Even doing vigorous indoor cleaning can benefit cardiovascular health.
An in-depth study from Sweden supplies the evidence to back this up.
The study was conducted over a 12 1/2 year period and focused on seniors who were 60 years old and up. It found that routine activities like yard work, housecleaning, and DIY projects were equal to exercise for promoting heart health.
Those who regularly took part in these chores and activities (which included blackberry picking) cut their risk of having a heart attack or stroke by 30%!
And if lawn mowing is your top outdoor chore, there’s indication that freshly mown grass releases chemicals that act as stress relievers. That could be the reason why many people love the scent of a just-mowed lawn.
#6- Vacuum for a Free Cardio Workout
Not only can a good vacuum keep your home free of dust and allergens, doing a whole-house vacuuming job is an effective workout for your body.
Vacuuming works a lot of muscles in your body. You especially use your legs, arms, and core to push and pull the vacuum across the floor. Cleaning for a period of 20-30 minutes also gets your heart rate up and is a good cardio workout.
Getting your heart pumping and blood flowing doing a simple chore like vacuuming can have major benefits.
This means you can get clean floors, a healthier environment, and the benefits of exercise all from one task!
#7- Clean with Natural Citrus for a Mood Boost
Cleaning and dusting aren’t fun household chores for most people, but you can make them better by using a citrus-scented cleanser.
The smell of citrus can be a powerful mood-lifter and may also lower anxiety. As the popularity of aromatherapy has increased, so has the research on which scents affect mood the most. So far, citrus is showing itself to be one of the best anti-stress fragrances.
In one study, lemon oil was found to be better at relieving stress than either lavender or rose oil. It demonstrated potential anti-anxiety, antidepressant, and anti-stress properties.
Orange, bergamot, and the Japanese citrus fruit yuzu have also all demonstrated similar mood-boosting and stress-lowering abilities. In one fascinating study, researchers found that the scent of lemon can even make people feel better about their body image.
Of course, you’ll want to opt for a natural citrus cleaner to avoid spraying harmful chemicals in your home. Then, try to relax as you clean and let yourself be uplifted by the fragrance!
#8- Cook from Scratch for Better Health (And Less Stress)
For some, cooking is very enjoyable, although for others it’s just a daily chore. But even if you fall into the second category, cooking regularly can have some serious benefits for your health.
The most obvious benefit is that the more you cook from scratch, the less processed food you’ll end up eating. Processed food is often short on nutrients and can hide several questionable ingredients. The same goes for most fast food options.
Another less obvious benefit is that cooking can lower stress levels.
Research has shown that any type of creativity lowers stress and benefits overall health. This certainly includes making food. Planning a recipe, chopping produce, adding seasoning, making adjustments- these are all part of the creative process of cooking.
So go ahead and try some new recipes, and enjoy the creativity of cooking while you’re at it!
Share Household Chores for Even More Benefits
Most of us regard chores as annoying tasks to get done, but the evidence shows they are actually good for us. There’s also good indication that you can get more benefits by sharing the load.
If you have children, research shows that giving them regular chores has several benefits.
It may be a difficult task to get them to happily complete their chores but, nevertheless, doing housework and other tasks can give them higher self-esteem, make them more responsible, and enable them to better deal with frustration and delayed gratification. All of this usually translates to better success in school as well.
It’s fair to say that household chores shouldn’t be looked down on anymore. In fact, it might be time to embrace your to-do list to better your health, and get your family involved as well!