Menial chores might seem brainless, but they could be keeping our minds sharp.
According to a study in an upcoming issue of the journal Neurology, people who get physical exercise, even through activities like washing dishes, cooking or cleaning, are at a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease than their inactive counterparts.
"These results provide support for efforts to encourage physical activity in even very old people who might not be able to participate in formal exercise but can still benefit from a more active lifestyle," says Aron Buchman, study author and professor at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
A group of 716 men and women in their 70s and 80s who did not have Alzheimer's wore an actigraph, a gadget that measured their levels of activity, over a 10-day period. They were then tested on an annual basis for four years to determine their cognitive abilities. Over the period of the study, 71 of the participants developed Alzheimer's.
Researchers found that those who were in the bottom 10 per cent when it came to physical activity were over twice as likely to get the disease than the most active 10 per cent.
They also found that more intense the activity, the lower the risk. But even moderate levels of exercise helped.
The findings come as no surprise to Mary Schulz, director of education at the Alzheimer Society of Canada.
"The activities and the lifestyle choices that we make that tend to be good for our hearts," she says, "tend to be good for our brains."
She stresses the importance of a brain-healthy lifestyle — with a good mix of exercise as well as mental stimulation. But she cautions that there are no easy answers when it comes to Alzheimer's disease.
"We're certainly not talking about any guarantees here," says Schulz. "This is still a fatal illness. If you are diagnosed with it, there is no cure."
"But," she says, "a brain-healthy lifestyle can help to slow the progression in people who have the disease and even lower the risk of getting the disease."
And as the study points out, even small activities help.
"It doesn't have to be something dramatic," says Schulz. "You don't have to become a triathlon or marathon runner."
But that doesn't mean you have to refuse cleaning help for your aging parents either. While doing the dishes and cleaning up are ways of keeping active, a walk in the park might be a more pleasurable way for them to get that daily dose of exercise.
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