Housework, Gardening Boosts Heart Health for Older Women

An older white woman in the garden.

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Key Takeaways

  • A new study found that daily life movement, like housework and gardening, can help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women.
  • Routine chores aren’t just a necessary part of life; they also contribute to our sense of physical and mental well-being.
  • Fixing a sedentary lifestyle by keeping up with your routine daily activities can have a positive effect on your health.

A new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association has found that daily life movement makes a difference in preventing cardiovascular disease in women over the age of 62.

The research provides an encouraging message: Even if you’re not getting intense workouts, routine activities like chores and gardening are beneficial to your physical and mental health.

The new study is part of the larger Objective Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Disease Health in Older Women (OPACH) study.

Four Hours of Activity Is the Sweet Spot

The researchers recruited 5,416 women between the ages of 63 and 97. None of the participants had a history of heart disease at the start of the study.

The participants’ daily life movements were recorded using a research-grade activity monitor for seven days in a row. The data captured included all physical activity, not just exercise.

The researchers followed up on the women for an average of 6.5 years to see if they developed cardiovascular disease.

The results showed that the women who got at least four hours of daily life movement had a 43% lower incidence of cardiovascular disease compared to women who got less than two hours.

Steve Nguyen, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, San Diego Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and lead author of the study, told Verywell that the researchers “hope the results of this study become part of the conversation for encouraging more movement throughout the day for older adults who are unable or uninterested in higher intensity activities.”

Women’s Heart Health

Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. It’s responsible for one in five female deaths each year.

Postmenopausal women, in particular, are at a higher risk for heart disease because they no longer have cardiovascular protection from the hormone estrogen.

There’s a noticeable increase in the rate of heart attacks 10 years after the onset of menopause, which typically happens around the age of 54.

The chances of getting heart disease can increase as you age, but certain risk factors for heart disease are modifiable.

For example, a sedentary lifestyle can increase your risk of heart disease by 42%. However, taking steps—literally—to get more active can help lower your risk. 

Daily Movement

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-to-vigorous exercise a week.

However, that goal can be intimidating and discouraging to many people, especially older adults.

Steve Nguyen, PhD

Any amount of movement is better than none.

— Steve Nguyen, PhD

The new study suggests that the physical activity we get from all the movement that we do in a day is just as effective at decreasing heart disease risk as something more intense, like getting on a treadmill.

“Light intensity physical activity makes up 69% of daily life movement,” said Nguyen. “It is also recognized as having benefits for heart health. Since daily life movement is something we all do and is safe, we should encourage it more.”

Activity as a Vital Sign

Your heart isn’t the only part of your body that benefits from getting up and about. Common “side effects” of aging like muscle weakness and stiffness can also be eased by moving throughout your day.

Eleanor Levin, MD

We use activity measures as another ‘vital sign’ like blood pressure and heart rate.

— Eleanor Levin, MD

Eleanor Levin, MD, clinical professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, told Verywell that “in the Preventive Heart Clinic at Stanford Health Care, and in the Women’s Heart Health Center, we use activity measures as another ‘vital sign’ like blood pressure and heart rate.”

Levin said that they “encourage activities such as walking in 10-minute increments [and] trying to reach 30 minutes daily. Gardening, housework, and even standing help prevent muscle weakening and frailty.”

Psychological Benefits

Chronic stress can take a toll on the whole body, including the cardiovascular system.

Research has shown that prolonged exposure to the hormones that are part of the body’s “fight or flight” response can lead to negative cardiovascular outcomes, including:

Moving for Your Mind

Simple daily life movement doesn’t just decrease your chances of heart disease; it can also have a protective effect on your mental health and well-being.

The positive feedback loop of exercise and movement can boost your mood, decrease feelings of anxiety and depression, and help you have more energy during the day.

These benefits leave you better equipped to combat stress and make life choices that support your overall health.

“Depending on the context of the daily life movement, gardening, and other daily life movements can reduce stress, boost mood, and provide a sense of purpose,” said Nguyen.

Get Moving at Every Age

While the study was focused on postmenopausal women, the benefits of leading an active lifestyle may apply to people of all ages. In fact, the study authors plan to expand their research to include men and younger populations.The study also had some limitations that future research might be able to tackle.

For one, the researchers only tracked the participants’ movement for seven days. Also, even though the device they used was research-quality, it still might have made some errors—for example, recording movement when someone wasn’t actually moving.

Steve Nguyen, PhD

Since daily life movement is something we all do and is safe, we should encourage it more

— Steve Nguyen, PhD

Even still, the study reached an encouraging conclusion: While they may not feel like exercise, the daily activities that help you get moving are beneficial to your well-being.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Showering and bathing
  • Doing dishes
  • Folding laundry
  • Sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming
  • Tidying up living spaces
  • Making beds
  • Yard work and gardening

According to Nguyen, “our hearts, and the rest of our cardiovascular system, respond to movement regardless of the source of the movement—whether it’s walking for exercise or during daily life movement.”

If vigorous workouts don’t fit your health needs or lifestyle, that’s OK. Maybe you can “take heart” that research is showing that your daily routines are benefiting your body and mind.

“Any amount of movement is better than none,” Nguyen said. “And it is never too late to start accumulating more movement.”

What This Means For You

New research has found that puttering around your garden or completing daily chores may help protect your heart. Any movement, no matter how intense, has benefits for your physical and mental health.

9 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. Nguyen S, Bellettiere J, Wang G, et al. Accelerometer-derived daily life movement classified by machine learning and incidence of cardiovascular disease in older women: the OPACH studyJ Am Heart Assoc. 2022 Mar;11(5):e023433.

  2. LaCroix AZ, Rillamas-Sun E, Buchner D, et al. The Objective Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Disease Health in older women (OPACH) studyBMC Public Health. 2017;17(1):192. doi:10.1186/s12889-017-4065-6

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lower your risk for the number 1 killer of women.

  4. American Heart Association. Menopause and heart disease.

  5. LaMonte MJ, Larson JC, Manson JE, et al. Association of sedentary time and incident heart failure hospitalization in postmenopausal womenCirc Heart Fail. 2020;13(12):e007508. doi:10.1161/circheartfailure.120.007508

  6. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical activity guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition.

  7. American Heart Association. Stress and heart health.

  8. Harvard Health Publishing. How simply moving benefits your mental health.

  9. Lear SA, Hu W, Rangarajan S, et al. The effect of physical activity on mortality and cardiovascular disease in 130 000 people from 17 high-income, middle-income, and low-income countries: the PURE study. Lancet. 2017;390(10113):2643-2654. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(17)31634-3

By Amy Isler, RN, MSN, CSN
Amy Isler, RN, MSN, CSN, is a registered nurse with over six years of patient experience. She is a credentialed school nurse in California.