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Can doing household chores help you stay free from health risks?

Researchers are using data from fitness trackers to better understand the correlation between movement and a long and healthy life

Can you remain fit and healthy by doing household chores?
Can you remain fit and healthy by doing household chores? (Istockphoto)

Wearables have had a huge impact on our lives, ranging from the frequency and how much we exercise, sleep, eat, drink, sit and, even, how much we move. Over the years, wearable tech has taken tremendous strides—both in the quantum and quality of data they gather, and also in terms of the software that analyse this data. This has led to the discovery of new information that has helped people reduce the risk of disease and death.

In fact, a study published in the journal Nature in December deals exactly one such new information, made possible by wearables. A team of researchers and scientists including a professor of sport and exercise medicine at University College London found that doing difficult chores around the house, amounting to a few minutes of vigorous activity every day, reduces the overall risk of early death by 39% compared to those who do nothing at all. 

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For the study, the researchers monitored over 25,000 people wearing wrist accelerometers, who don’t exercise, with an average age of 61.8 years, for just under seven years. They found that daily non-exercise physical activities like household chores or walking while commuting to work—labeled Vigorous Intermittent Lifestyle Physical Activity (VILPA)—of about 1-2 minutes thrice a day, which is embedded into everyday life, could cut all-cause and cancer mortality risk by 38%–40% and cardio-vascular disease mortality risk by 48%–49%. 

Wearable devices such as smart watches and activity trackers continuously record movement to a high level. This allows them to identify patterns of physical activity, such as VILPA. And since an increasing number of people are generating detailed activity and health data through their use of wearables, the scientific community is finally waking up to the opportunity it provides to better understand the health-enhancing potential of all this data. In fact, the researchers of this study say that advancements in machine learning enhance the scope of understanding the health effects of movement. 

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Exercise, or even regular physical activity is known to reduce risk of death and improve quality of life, and the results of this study makes this connection clear. “Exercise increases the muscular consumption of oxygen, improves vascular health, lowers blood pressure, lowers cholesterol, controls sugar levels and obesity, and reduces heart disease risk. Also, if you keep exercising and train your muscles on a regular basis, joint health also improves. Exercise also releases positive hormones called endorphins directly impacting the mental health of a person,” says Dr. Sanjay Mittal, director of clinical and preventive cardiology, Heart Institute, Medanta Hospital, in Gurugram.

While exercising is what Mittal advises for everyone, he concedes that many don’t find the time. Then again, there are many who are intimidated by any kind of sport or activity and many others simply find all of it boring. Mittal himself is averse to the idea of not exercising and urges people to make time for exercise and even “find an excuse to exercise”. 

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In the study, the researchers conclude that for most adults, vigorous activities in day-to-day life may be more feasible than structured exercise. This requires minimal time commitment and involves no specific preparation, equipment or access to facilities. “Many common activities of daily living are likely to elicit relative vigorous-intensity effort in physically inactive adults with poor fitness who do not habitually exercise, which is the majority demographic in many countries,” they state.

Mittal makes this point in a more specific manner. “Make sure you get up every 40 minutes from your desk, stretch, move around the office or your house. Just keep moving.” Mittal suggests that those who do not exercise ought to make sure that they walk as much as they can, take the stairs where possible, go for a stroll after their meals and try to get more steps in every single day. “Throughout the day you should aim to walk at least 10,000 steps… not in one go but spread through the day.” 

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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