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Routine Housework May Help Stave Off Disability

Study finds benefit in light activity such as housecleaning or a slow stroll


Two years later, the researchers checked back in with the participants to see whether they had developed any disabilities.

The investigators found that people who frequently engaged in light physical activity were much less likely to become disabled, even after accounting for time spent in moderately intense exercise.

People who took part in more light activity were one-third to one-half less likely to suffer a disability, compared to people who had the least amount of daily light activity, the researchers noted.

Light physical activity also slowed the progression of people already suffering from a disability, the findings showed.

And while people who took part in some moderate-intensity exercise did even better, the researchers found, their results show that some movement is better than none.

"Our findings provide encouragement for adults who may not be candidates to increase physical activity intensity due to health limitations," Dunlop said. "Even among those who did almost no moderate activity, the more light activity they did, the less likely they were to develop disability."

The study appeared in the April 29 issue of the BMJ.

The findings correlate with what doctors often recommend to patients with osteoarthritis, said Dr. Elizabeth Matzkin, an orthopedic surgeon and surgical director of women's musculoskeletal health at Brigham and Women's Hospital, in Boston. She was not involved with the new research.

"We have always tried to recommend to our patients that physical activity is extremely important, and especially in our patients with early osteoarthritis," she said. "The most important thing they can do is self-management -- basically stay active through some sort of exercise, and keep their weight down."

Armed with this study, doctors can argue that even moving around your house to make a bed or wash some dishes will help stave off disability, Matzkin said.

"I tell my patients that you're going to be bad off if you do nothing, but there is a threshold for exercise and if you overdo it, you can hurt yourself and be worse off," she said. "This study definitely shows that if you get off the couch and do something, no matter how light, you're still going to reap some benefits."

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