Even Household Chores May Reduce Your Dementia Risk

doing dishes

Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Being active in daily life as an older adult may lower your risk of dementia.
  • In a new study, people who exercised regularly had the lowest risk of dementia. those who did chores also saw benefits.
  • Visiting with family and friends often also lowered the risk of dementia.

New research shows that doing everyday activities like household chores, exercise, and visiting family and friends may lower the risk of developing dementia.

Dementia is a health condition that causes you to lose your cognitive abilities, like your memory or the ability to make decisions. Dementia can range from mild symptoms that start to impair function to severe symptoms that cause you to depend on others to live.

Dementia is more common as people age, but it is not considered a normal part of aging. About a third of all people age 85 and older have some form of dementia.

Part of the reason why easy preventive measures are so important is that there's still no way to treat dementia.

"The treatment for dementia is still limited so far," study co-author Huan Song, MD, PhD, research professor at Sichuan University in Chengdu, China, told Verywell. "Therefore, we consider it important to know if some easy changes, such as adopting a healthier lifestyle, can be effective interventions for the primary prevention of dementia."

Song's study, which was published in the journal Neurology, analyzed data from 501,376 people from the UK Biobank with an average age of 56. None of the participants had dementia at the start of the study.

Participants were asked to fill out questionnaires at the start of the study on physical activities they did, including climbing a flight of stairs, walking, and doing more intense sports, along with how often they did household chores and visited with friends.

During a follow-up of about 10.5 years, 5,185 people were diagnosed with dementia. The researchers discovered that certain activities seemed to be linked to a lowered risk of dementia. Those included:

  • Exercising regularly (35% lower risk)
  • Doing household chores (21% lower risk)
  • Visiting with family and friends daily (15% lower risk)

One limitation of the study is that the UK Biobank is not a very ethnically diverse sample. Additionally, participants’ activity levels and mental activities were self-reported—so researchers had to take them at face value.

The study focused on older adults with a higher risk of dementia. Song said it’s difficult to know if exercise and activity in younger people may help prevent dementia down the road.

Symptoms of Dementia

  • Memory loss, poor judgment, and confusion
  • Trouble speaking, understanding and expressing thoughts, or reading and writing
  • Wandering and getting lost in a familiar place
  • Trouble handling money responsibly and paying bills
  • Repeating questions
  • Using unusual words to refer to familiar objects
  • Taking longer to complete normal daily tasks
  • Losing interest in normal daily activities or events
  • Hallucinating or experiencing delusions or paranoia
  • Acting impulsively
  • Not caring about other people’s feelings
  • Problems with balance and movement

Why Being Active May Stave off Dementia

While the latest study didn’t explore why activities like light exercise and chores could reduce your risk of dementia, it's not the first to make the association.

One study published in JAMA Network Open last year analyzed data from 43,896 people, focusing on how much daily physical activity they got and their risk of developing dementia. The researchers discovered that those who were more physically active had a lowered risk of developing dementia.

Another 2021 study analyzed data from 62,286 participants in Korea and found that an increased physical activity level, including a low amount of light-intensity activity, was linked to a reduced risk of dementia in older adults.

Dementia happens when healthy neurons in the brain start to die at a faster pace than normal. As Song explained, activity can help improve the health and amount of neurons in the brain.

“Several possible explanations for the link have been proposed, including the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factors [which allow neurons to proliferate and grow], the improvement of cerebral blood flow, and antioxidant effects in physical activity,” she said. “Further, physical activity can indirectly influence other modifiable factors for cognitive function, including obesity, hypertension, insulin resistance, depression, and cardiovascular fitness.”

Amit Sachdev, MD, associate chief medical officer in the Department of Neurology and Ophthalmology at Michigan State University, agreed.

“A healthy body leads to a healthy brain. Better overall health is best,” he told Verywell.

Song said her team's findings suggest that regular activity in any form can be helpful for dementia risk, even if exercise is the most helpful.

“Both actual exercise and regular activity—like household chores—help reduce the risk of dementia, but the benefits from exercise in leisure time might be more prominent,” she said.

What This Means For You

It can be difficult to find time to exercise regularly, but research suggests that being active in your daily life—even by doing chores—can help lower your risk of dementia.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Zhu J, Ge F, Zheng Y, et al. Physical and mental activity, disease susceptibility, and risk of dementia: A prospective cohort study based on UK BiobankNeurology. doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000200701

  2. National Institute on Aging. What is dementia? Symptoms, types, and diagnosis.

  3. Ihira H, Sawada N, Inoue M, et al. Association between physical activity and risk of disabling dementia in JapanJAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(3):e224590. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.4590

  4. Yoon M, Yang P, Jin M, et al. Association of physical activity level with risk of dementia in a nationwide cohort in KoreaJAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(12):e2138526. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.38526

  5. Li S, Weinstein G, Zare H, et al. The genetics of circulating BDNF: Towards understanding the role of BDNF in brain structure and function in middle and old agesBrain Commun. 2020;2(2):fcaa176. doi:10.1093/braincomms/fcaa176

  6. Barnes JN, Pearson AG, Corkery AT, Eisenmann NA, Miller KB. Exercise, arterial stiffness, and cerebral vascular function: Potential impact on brain healthJ Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2021;27(8):761-775. doi:10.1017%2FS1355617721000394

  7. Simioni C, Zauli G, Martelli AM, et al. Oxidative stress: Role of physical exercise and antioxidant nutraceuticals in adulthood and agingOncotarget. 2018;9(24):17181-17198. doi:10.18632%2Foncotarget.24729

  8. Posadzki P, Pieper D, Bajpai R, et al. Exercise/physical activity and health outcomes: An overview of Cochrane systematic reviewsBMC Public Health. 2020;20(1):1724. doi:10.1186/s12889-020-09855-3

By Korin Miller
Korin Miller is a health and lifestyle journalist who has been published in The Washington Post, Prevention, SELF, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among other outlets.