Mowing the lawn or washing the car are among simple activities that can reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke by almost 30 percent in people over 60, researchers said.
A study in Sweden found that older people who were physically active around the house stayed healthier longer than couch potatoes — regardless of whether they also did any kind of “formal” exercise like jogging or going to the gym.
“A generally active daily life was, regardless of exercising regularly or not, associated with cardiovascular health and longevity in older adults,” said the study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
While the health risks of prolonged sitting and the benefits of regular exercise have both been well documented, the contribution to good health of “non-exercise physical activity (NEPA)” is not fully understood.
For the study, researchers screened nearly 4,000 Swedish 60-year-olds in 1997-99 and tracked their health for an average 12.5 years.
The participants recorded how frequently they performed certain activities, including doing home repairs, cutting the lawn or hedge, car maintenance, going hunting or fishing, cycling, and gathering mushrooms or berries.
The researchers found that people with high levels of physical activity, excluding formal exercise, had a 27 percent lower risk of contracting cardiovascular disease compared with inactive people, and a 30 percent lower risk of death from all causes during the study period.
The results were “not significantly different” from those for people who did do regular formal exercise but had low NEPA levels, the study said.
Those who did both had the lowest risk.
“Promoting everyday NEPA might be as important as recommending regular exercise for older adults” — boosting individual and population health as the demographic shifts towards an ever-older population in many parts of the world, the study said.
The researchers factored in other lifestyle factors that could influence the results, including alcohol intake, education level, smoking habits and diet.
And they warned that care should be taken applying the findings in cultures that may have different physical activity habits and levels.