Sunday, April 13, 2008

Does housework improve your health?

Could be per London researchers who published their study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. When I read, however, that their data suggested as little as twenty minutes per week of straightening up could straighten up attitudes, I thought "You must be joking."

The doctors sent out questionnaires to nearly 20,000 Scots over an eight year period. They asked participants to: 1) Report on their usual level of physical activity, and 2) take a little quiz assessing their current mental health. They found:

1. Those who puttered 'bout the house and garden for 20 minutes 1-3 times per week were 24% less likely to be in psychological distress.

2. Subjects who upped the putter to 4-5 sessions weekly were 16% less distressed, suggesting perhaps there's a limit to how much time you can muck in the clutter and benefit from having done so.

3. Best of all, no surprise, were those who increased intensity of activity; their bursts of sports rewarded them with 33% less angst.

Well yeah, we know about endorphins and all that; regular hot and sweaty stuff has just got to be good for the mood. But what about this stab or two per week at tidying the home? Does the satisfaction of stacking magazines and emptying waste baskets feed back to a brighter mood?

This, of course, is the rationale behind cognitive behavioral therapy; play like you care and then you start to care. I've mentioned Fly Lady before, the balabusta* who urges women overwhelmed and undermotivated to start the first day of the rest of their lives by cleaning the kitchen sink each night. If you get a grip on one small spot in your chaotic life, next thing you know, you'll be wiping around the kitchen sink, sweeping the floor, combing your hair, and taking on the world.** Hard to believe, however, that those persons spending just long enough each week to conquer the sink and perhaps the stovetop could be experiencing either enough endorphin high to boost their moods or getting cognitively motivated to become undepressed.

My experience with persons in psychological distress is that they simply don't do housework. Period. And those persons not in psychic trouble straighten up their houses as a matter of course.

Makes you wonder about the quality of the medical research that drives our beliefs.
*That's Yiddish for super-woman; she cooks, she sews, she works, she raises children, and does it all in style.
**Sort of a "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" approach to mental health.


Cilicious said...

I think a lot of mental health is about a feeling of control (or lack thereof).
I always go to bed with a clean kitchen sink and counter. Everything *else* might be messy, but my sanity seems to be maintained if at least the kitchen is presentable.

JeanMac said...

I always empty the DW before bed but that's only because the sink is full of dishes:)
Anyway,I should be deliriously happy as for sure work 30 min a day on chores.

Ruth said...

"Those who puttered 'bout the house and garden for 20 minutes 1-3 times per week.."
I can live with that!
My mother always said make the bed and do the dishes and your house will seem tidy enough. I add to that keep the bathroom relatively clean.

Anna said...

Nice post

Anna said...

Nice post

Mauigirl said...

Interesting. I am not a big neatnik by any means, but there is a limit to how chaotic and messy I can let my house get without doing something about it. And doing something does give one a feeling of satisfaction, which could add up to a better attitude and less psychological distress.

I think it does come back to taking control, and is kind of an existential thing - "cultivate your own garden" since that is what you can control, and let the rest of the existential chaos go.

I do have a cleaning lady to help me with the lessened psychological distress. And yes, having her do it has the same effect, if not more, than if I did it myself! So it's not endorphins, it's feeling as if your house is under control.