Even very moderate activity levels can influence the risk of death, according to a new study led by the University of Buffalo. The study showed that there was a significant reduction of mortality risk in women over 65 who regularly engaged in light physical activities, such as household chores.
Yes, folding the laundry, ironing, vacuuming the house and other menial tasks might not seem the most glamorous of activities, but they may help you to live longer.
Keep on moving, keep on living
The new study looked at over 6,000 women from aged 63-99; the researchers reported that there was a significantly lower risk of mortality in women who were active at levels only slightly higher than sedentary.
This again reinforces what we have discussed in previous articles, that even very moderate levels of physical activity, such as walking, can have a profound effect on health and potentially longevity. Low-impact exercises, such as walking, swimming, dancing and even household chores, are all great ways to keep moving and improve health, and they have been shown to improve balance and reduce fall risks in the elderly.
According to the study, women who engaged in 30 minutes a day of light physical activity measured by accelerometer saw a 12% lower risk of mortality. In those who did 30 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity, there was a 39% reduction in mortality.
For the purposes of the study, light physical activity would be considered household chores, including laundry, ironing, cleaning windows, dusting, and cleaning floors. Moderate to vigorous activity would be things like brisk walking or cycling at a moderate pace.
Even when the researchers accounted for both types of physical activity at the same time (light and moderate-to-vigorous), they still saw a significant reduction of mortality associated with each activity, independently of the other. This is intriguing, as current health guidelines suggest that physical activity should be at least moderate or better to gain health benefits; this study shows that there are even health benefits from physical activity below those guidelines.
The reduction of mortality benefits of light physical activity was similar for women older and younger than 80. It was similar across racial backgrounds, in obese and non-obese women, and in women with high and low functional ability.
While the study did focus on older women, the researchers suggest that their results are a strong message to younger women and men that physical activity is important and that developing healthy habits that include activity is important when young so that you are likely to maintain those habits when you are older.
One of the more unusual things about this study was that the researchers used accelerometers to measure physical activity rather than relying on questionnaires. This meant that the research team was able to monitor and record activity data very accurately for the duration of the study.
To improve the accuracy of the study, even more, the researchers also conducted a study in their lab using a subset of the study participants. They calibrated the information from the accelerometers with the kinds of activities that older women did as part of their daily routines. This meant that they could interpret the accelerometer data very accurately, making this study unique in its attention to detail.
Lessening the impact of aging in an aging society
The findings of this study have implications for health guidelines for physical activity in the U.S. and could be very important given the projected growth of the aging population in the next few decades. The Department of Health and Human Services is currently considering the study with a view to possibly amending its guidelines, which were originally published in 2008.
As we have talked about in a number of articles, our society is experiencing a rapid increase in the aging population, a growth that could reach unsustainable levels in the future, as there may not be enough younger people to support so many older people and their declining health.
By 2050, it is estimated that the United States population aged 65 or older will be double that since 2000 and will reach almost 77 million, according to LaMonte, one of the study authors. At current growth rates, women in this age group will outnumber men two to one.
Society is facing a potential crisis with an ever-increasing aging population, and this is yet another reason why rejuvenation biotechnologies should be developed to prevent the ill health of old age. Until these technologies arrive, exercise is the next-best thing to reduce the impact of aging.
Keeping active and staying healthy as we age is highly beneficial to society as well as the individual. Physical activity, even at very light levels under the guidelines currently set out by the Department of Health and Human Services, is shown to be beneficial to health.
Finally, it is important to consider that some technologies that may increase our healthy lifespans beyond the current norms could be arriving in the next decade or so; ultimately, anyone serious about living a healthy and long life should include at least some physical activity in their daily routine.
 LaMonte, M. J., Buchner, D. M., Rillamas‐Sun, E., Di, C., Evenson, K. R., Bellettiere, J., … & Zaslovsky, O. (2017). Accelerometer‐Measured Physical Activity and Mortality in Women Aged 63 to 99. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.