When it comes to keeping your brain sharp over time, there’s no need to do any strenuous activity. In fact, one recent study says that you can improve your cognitive function as your age just by picking up a mop or sponge and doing a quick clean.
For a new study published in BMC Geriatrics, scientists did health assessments and brain scans of 66 older participants who had normal brain function. They performed a series of cognitive tests, brain scans, and general health analyses on three separate occasions that looked at how participants’ minds performed after household activities, like dusting rooms, washing dishes, or prepping meals, versus more structured recreational exercise activities, such as jogging or biking.
Researchers were surprised to find that people who regularly did those seemingly mundane household chores actually had more grey matter in their brains than people who only did more strenuous forms of recreational exercise. Grey matter is a critical component of overall brain health; it’s where the neurons in your brain live and fire off “commands” to the rest of the body. The more grey matter you have, the easier it is to carry out cognitive functions. Early signs of degenerative diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s often include a decrease in a person’s grey matter.
Scientists are still parsing together why household chores can have such an important impact on the brain, but they have several theories. First and foremost, even if you’re just getting up to sweep the floor every day, it’s better than a fully sedentary lifestyle, so that promotes grey matter stimulation. On top of that, because brain health and heart health are so intrinsically linked, even those small movements around the house all day add up to keep your cardiovascular system healthy and strong. Lastly, researchers think that the time and attention it requires to plan and execute chores create new neural pathways in the brain, no matter how many times you’ve done them before.
Scientists hope that the results will encourage more people to get moving, even if it’s just around the house. “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,” explained Nicole Anderson, PhD, the senior author of the study.
So if you were worried that you’d need to be super active to keep your brain healthy as you got older, you can put those concerns aside! A clear head is as easy as doing a load of laundry.