Health

Dementia prevention: How housework can keep you thin and safeguarded

Housework and exercise — they both feel like a chore for most of us, especially as we get older.

But a study this week found regularly hoovering, ironing and taking out the rubbish in middle and older age can lower your risk of dementia.

Those who did the housework most often were a fifth less likely to be struck down with the cruel memory-robbing disorder than those who did the least.

It came after researchers in February found that strenuous gardening was just as beneficial for fending off an early death as hundreds of push-ups, sit-ups or squats every week. 

Researchers believe putting a bit of oomph into housework acts like a form of exercise — not only for the body but also for the mind. Maintaining both is deemed crucial for fending off dementia. 

A lack of regular exercise can also increase your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes or becoming overweight or obese — all of which raise the risk of the memory-robbing condition.

Dr Zakariya Waqar-Uddin, a GP in west London, told MailOnline that even 10 minutes of housework can get people out of breath and raise heart rate, increasing physical fitness.

He noted that it also requires moving between rooms and planning what you’re doing, so it keeps grey matter ‘ticking over’ — regions in the brain considered most important for cognition.

We know that as we get older we tend to move less. So, MailOnline has compiled a list of six ways to turn mundane chores into mini-workouts — and it’s been backed by experts.

Hoover power lunges

Turn vacuuming into the ultimate leg-burning exercise by performing lunges as you hoover. 

How to do them: Bend both knees as you step forward, lowering until the front one is at a 90 degree angle and the back knee is an inch off the floor.  

Push off on both legs and step through, lifting your back leg and bringing it forward so your rear foot lands ahead of you in a lunge position.

Lunges strengthen the hamstrings and calves, which help stabilise the knee joint and may reduce the risk of straining and pain in the joints. 

How many should you do?  Aim for five sets of 10 reps, taking a 60-90 second break in between.

What do the experts say? Personal trainer Belle Hutt said by performing lunges you are targeting your quad, hamstring and glute muscles.

These are ‘the largest muscle groups in the body, therefore you are burning the most calories whilst strengthening the lower body,’ she said. 

The sweep-up press-up

Use the time between sweeping the floor and collecting debris in your dustpan to strengthen your upper body and core.

How to do them:  Make sure both hands are empty as you bend down and get on all fours, keeping your hands slightly wider than your shoulders.  

Straighten your arms and legs and lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor. Pause, then push yourself back up.  Repeat. If these are too difficult, try going on your hands and knees instead.

Push-ups improve strength in the upper body and core, boost stability in the joints and maintain strength with ageing — this can help older people stay active for longer and reduce their risk of falls.

How many should you do?  Aim for five sets of five reps, taking a 60-90 second break in between.

What do the experts say? Ms Hutt said: ‘This is a compound movement, improving core stability and upper body strength.’

Personal trainer Tom Opper added: ‘To continue progressing over time, it’s essential to apply the principle of progressive overload, which involves adding more work to the routine so that your body can continue to adapt.

‘This can be achieved in a number of ways, such as adding reps, slowing down the tempo of each movement, or adding in a quarter-rep at the bottom of every repetition.’

Washing squats

Hanging up the washing or doing the dishwasher can be a workout in itself, especially if you’ve got a big family. But squatting while doing the chore is a perfect to add an extra layer of difficulty. 

How to do them: While emptying the washing machine or dishwasher, squat as low to the ground as you can with good form. This involves keeping feet shoulder width apart, your back straight, and sitting down into your bottom. 

Only use your hands to collect the clothes and try not hold on to any surfaces, which will make the exercise too easy.

People already do squats are part of daily life, such as when standing up from being seated, getting out of bed and when tidying.

HOW TO STAY HEALTHY THROUGH EXERCISE 

Adults are encouraged to do some type of physical activity every day. Exercise just once or twice a week can reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke.

Over-18s should aim to:

  • Do strengthening activities that work all the major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms) on at least two days a week. This includes carrying heavy shopping bags, yoga, pilates and lifting weights.
  • Do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week. Moderate activity includes brisk walking, riding a bike, dancing and doubles tennis. Vigorous activity includes running, swimming and riding a bike fast or on hills.
  • Spread exercise evenly over four to five days a week, or every day
  • Reduce time spent sitting or lying down and break up long periods of not moving with some activity

Adults can also achieve weekly activity target with:

  • Several short sessions of very vigorous intensity activity. This includes lifting heavy weights, circuit training and sprinting up hills.
  • A mix of moderate, vigorous and very vigorous intensity activity

Source; NHS

But adding extra ones in burns calories, boosts muscles strength and improves mobility, balance and posture.

How many should you do?  Aim for five sets of 10 reps, taking a 60-90 second break in between.

What do the experts say? Ms Hutt said: ‘This is another compound movement not only improving lower body strength but core strength. Remember to keep your back straight and engage your core.’

Single-leg surface cleaning

No matter how many times you clean them, surfaces just can’t seem to stay clean, can they?

Use this as a positive way to get extra exercise in. Standing upright while cleaning burns around four calories per minute, and standing on one leg requires even more physical and brain power.

How to do them: To make the legs work harder, try balancing on one when doing mundane housework tasks.

Studies have shown that being able to stand on one leg is overall a good sign of health — with those unable to do so being twice as likely to die in their sixties. 

It has also been linked with reduced risk of falling and higher quality of life.

The seemingly simple exercise relies on good balance and muscle strength, as the feet, ankles, legs and core are relied on to stay standing.

How many should you do?  Aim to hold for 30 seconds on each leg and perform them three times each, with a 60 second rest in between.

What do the experts say? Ms Hutt said: ‘This improves stability/balance for longevity and quality of life. Engage and tighten your core for the best success.’

Extra trips up the stairs

Carrying cleaning products, laundry or other household items up and down the stairs burns extra calories.

To get the heart working harder, add in a few extra trips up and down the stairs.

How to do them: Hold the object in front of you while making sure you can stay upright and see where you’re going. Do a few trips, while maintaining a good posture and squeezing the leg muscles with each step.

Holding the objects in front of you builds upper body strength and engages the core, while squeezing the legs will boost muscles and improve balance.

How many should you do? If you’re aiming for a total of 10,000 steps a day — the nationally recommended amount — do five trips up and down for each section of laundry.

Split your laundry into five sections — socks/underwear, t-shirts, bedlinen, dresses/trousers and towels.

What do the experts say?  Dr Waqar-Uddin said this weight-bearing exercise will get people’s heart working harder, increasing the effectiveness of chores as exercise.

‘Amid the cost of living crisis, people are cash-strapped so may not be able to afford the gym. Anything that keeps them moving, mobile and gets them out of breath around the house can be beneficial,’ he added.

Ms Hutt said: ‘I suggest doing this exercise/chore first to warm up and prepare your body for the following exercises.’

A bit of elbow grease 

Scrubbing and polishing become much tougher tasks if they are done vigorously.

How to do them: Using chemical-heavy products does a lot of the hard work for you, with many lifting grime and dirt within minutes.

But opting for hot water and vinegar can have the same effect — with a much cheaper price tag — if you’re willing to put in the elbow grease. It will engage the core, shoulder and arm muscles, increase heart rate and burn more calories. 

Additionally, being more thorough with chores — reaching under the sofa with a dustpan and brush and scrubbing those other hard-to-reach places — will not only make your home cleaner but turn a regular clean into a workout.

If it becomes too intensive, treat it like a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session, made popular by Joe Wicks — with each few-minute cleaning sessions interspersed with 15 to 45-second rest intervals.

Emily Servante, a certified personal trainer at Ultimate Performance, explained that activities such as house work ‘burn more calories than we would expect’.

Cleaning up falls into the category of non-exercise activity thermogenesis — all the energy expended when not sleeping or exercising. 

‘People might not realise that the calories burned with the accumulation of all of those small activities would significantly outdo the calories you burned exhausting yourself on the treadmill or the exercise bike,’ she said. 

‘Combining your household chores with a few basic exercises like those described in [this] programme can give you a significant boost to your daily energy expenditure,’ Ms Servante added.

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