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Wednesday, 15 May, 2002, 05:18 GMT 06:18 UK
Housework won't get you fit
Housework
Housework doesn't make the heart race
A dose of heavy housework may make you feel good - but it does not count as proper exercise.

Scientists have found that brisk walking has a much more beneficial effect on health.


My advice would be for people to share the housework with their partner and then for both of them to go and do something more energetic

Professor Shah Embrahim
The finding raises a question mark about public health policy in recent years.

There has been a shift in policy from recommending three bouts of vigorous exercise a week to more moderate activity that fits into a daily routine.

This includes housework such as vacuum cleaning and window cleaning, gardening, and DIY, on the grounds that this confers health benefits and will be more feasible, especially for older people.

The researchers selected over 2,300 women aged between 60 and 79 from 15 British towns.

Lifestyle questions

Previous research has indicated that most women in this age group are relatively inactive.

The women gave details of how much exercise they took each week.

This included walking, cycling, fitness classes, sport, gardening, DIY and housework.

When heavy housework was included in the tally, over two thirds of the women reached recommended levels of physical activity.

But when this was excluded, only one in five reached target levels.

In general women who took little exercise were more likely to suffer from poor health, in particular heart or respiratory disease.

Those who walked briskly for at least 2.5 hours a week were much less likely to be obese, or to show signs of heart and lung problems.

However, heavy housework produced no such positive effect.

No benefit

The researchers say that defining housework as a vigorous physical activity may mean that a larger proportion of people will achieve exercise targets - but they say that their work suggests that it will do little to improve the general health of the population.


The list used in the paper seems to be significantly less active than previous classifications

Hugo Crombie
Lead researcher Professor Shah Ebrahim, of the University of Bristol, told BBC News Online that it might be that older women did not gain any health benefit from heavy housework because they did it in a relatively leisurely way.

But he said: "My advice would be for people to share the housework with their partner and then for both of them to go and do something more energetic than might confer health benefits."

Professor Ebrahim said that lack of exercise was a problem among all age groups.

Classification

Hugo Crombie, the Health Development Agency's public health adviser on physical activity, said the type of housework classed as heavy activity in the study could in part be responsible for the conclusion that there is little benefit to health from domestic activity.

In the study paper examples include hoovering and window cleaning, while the Health Survey for England uses walking with heavy shopping for more than five minutes, moving heavy furniture and scrubbing floors.

Mr Crombie said: "The list used in the paper seems to be significantly less active than previous classifications and this difference in activity levels could account for this new research finding little benefit to health."

The research is published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

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The BBC's Sam Gunasekara
"Housework may be hard work but does little to keep you fit or healthy"
See also:

24 Apr 02 | UK
Housework 'worth' 700bn
20 May 01 | Health
Exercise 'helps mental health'
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