Healthy Mind

Doing Household Chores Can Keep Your Brain Healthy as You Age—So, Stop Putting Them Off

Mary Grace Garis

Photo: Getty Images/Maskot
It’s understandable if you're conditioned to lament the need to do any domestic upkeep. After all, as children, most of us are programmed to view chores as, at best, work (“you don’t get your allowance until you clean your room”), and, at worst, punishment (“you can’t leave the house until you clean your room”). But there’s a major reason to consider reframing that mental relationship with chores—aside from that whole not-being-gross thing: According to a study published in the journal BMC Geriatricsthe benefits of doing chores include a major boon for your brain health.

For the study, which sought to draw links between doing chores and brain health and cognition, 66 cognitively healthy older adults underwent three medical assessments, including a health evaluation, structural brain imaging, and a cognitive assessment. They were also asked how often they spent tidying up their home, meal-prepping, doing housework, yard work, and other to-do list activities.

The conclusion? Those who were 'to-do'-ing more around the home displayed more brain volume in the hippocampus and frontal lobe, which are the brain areas that help with memory, learning, and cognition. So essentially, when you’re performing seemingly mindless chores like, say, scrubbing your table or doing a load of laundry, you actually may be sharpening your brain.

Of course, the study was limited in terms of its narrow testing and focus on a specifc age group, but it does track that the benefits of doing chores would include brain health. First, the organizational and planning aspect of chores (see: making your to-do list, color-coding the books on in your bookcase, and so on) may promote the formation of new neural connections. Second, chores may also keep you active in a way that's similar to low-intensity aerobic exercise, which can bolster heart health and, subsequently, help brain health, too.

"Lots of movement is the most important brain exercise known to man. So, however we can make the chore into something active can enhance the quality of our brain health." —Nan Wise, PhD, neuroscientist

"If we can be physically active when doing chores, that’s really good for the brain," says neuroscientist Nan Wise, PhD. "Lots of movement is the most important brain exercise known to man. So, however we can make the chore into something active can enhance the quality of our brain health."

Furthermore, the benefits of doing chores can also extend to relieving stress, since cleaning can promote a sense of control, and organization can help calm down the nervous system. And considering that stress can compromise all facets of wellness, including our cognitive brain health, that’s a major win as well.

Still grimacing at the idea of cleaning your room? I get it—me, too. To help motivate yourself to grow to reap the benefits of doing chores, Dr. Wise suggests adding some creative movement into your routine. For instance, dance while vacuuming or dusting! Listen to music to make it as fun as possible. You can further gamify it however you'd like, too.

"Train your brain while doing chores in the house by changing things up," Dr. Wise suggests as a way to introduce novelty. "Think about how you can be most effective in going about your chores, and then implement some new routines. Do a bit of research about the best methods that you can use for cleaning or doing laundry or balancing your checkbook."

So while it may seem easier to let your water glasses linger in your room or go just one more week without Swiffering, it’s equally easy to get down and dirty with your chores...and help your mind stay sparkling for years to come.

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