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Chores for a bigger brain

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Household chores like cooking may actually improve seniors’ brain volume, a marker of good brain health. (Source: Adobe Stock)

Although many people see household chores as completely mundane and mindless tasks, that may not be the case for older adults. Researchers in Canada recently found that seniors who spent more time doing chores also had greater brain size in key areas – a strong positive predictor of cognitive health.

Their study looked at the links between household chores, brain volume and cognition in a group of 66 cognitively healthy older adults. These participants were asked about the amount of time they spent on household chores such as tidying, dusting, meal preparation and cleanup, shopping, heavy housework, yard work, home repairs and caregiving. They were asked separately to provide details about their regular exercise habits.

The researchers found that older adults who spent more time doing chores also had greater brain volume, regardless of how much exercise they otherwise got. Their increased brain volume was generally found in two areas: the hippocampus, which plays a major role in memory and learning; and the frontal lobe, which is primarily involved in cognition.

There could be several factors behind the brain benefits of household chores, the study authors explained:

First, it is well-known that heart health is closely related to brain health, so household chores may have a similar effect on the heart and blood vessels as low-intensity aerobic exercise, they said. Second, the planning and organization involved in household chores may promote the formation of new neural connections in the brain over time, even at older ages. And finally, the older adults who did more household chores spent less time being sedentary, which is also associated with negative health outcomes, including poor brain health.

“Besides helping to guide physical activity recommendations for older adults, these findings may also motivate them to be more active, since household chores are a natural and often necessary aspect of many people’s daily lives, and therefore appear more attainable,” said Dr. Nicole Anderson, senior author of the study. She said a next step would be to assess the cognitive impacts of chores more objectively, with seniors using wearable technology to measure their household activity. 

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