Is housework good for health? Levels of physical activity and factors associated with activity in elderly women. Results from the British Women's Heart and Health Study

J Epidemiol Community Health. 2002 Jun;56(6):473-8. doi: 10.1136/jech.56.6.473.


Objective: To determine the prevalence of achieving new recommended levels of physical activity, the types of activity involved, and their determinants among elderly British women.

Design: National cross sectional survey.

Participants: 2341 women aged 60 to 79 from 15 British towns.

Main outcome measures: Prevalence of subjects achieving recommended levels of physical activity.

Results: Over two thirds of the participants were active at new recommended levels. This was mainly achieved through participation in heavy housework. If domestic activities were excluded only 21% were regularly active. Women who participated in brisk walking for at least 2.5 hours per week had reduced odds of being overweight: odds ratio (95% confidence intervals) 0.5 (0.3 to 0.6) after adjustment for other forms of activity, health status, smoking, and socioeconomic position. Participating in at least 2.5 hours of heavy housework was not associated with reduced odds of being overweight 1.1 (0.8 to 1.4). Age, self reported poor health status, coronary heart disease, and respiratory disease were independently associated with reduced odds of participating in all types of activity. In addition participation in brisk walking and physical exercise were less likely in current smokers, those from the lowest socioeconomic class, and those living in the north of the country. Participation in heavy housework was less likely in women reporting depression but was not associated with smoking, socioeconomic class, or area of residence.

Conclusions: If new physical activity recommendations, which include domestic activities, are used to assess population levels of physical activity then it seems that the majority of elderly women are sufficiently active. Heavy housework is not associated with reduced levels of being overweight and prospective studies are necessary to demonstrate an independent health benefit of participating in domestic activities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Heart Diseases / prevention & control
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Household Work / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Odds Ratio
  • Regression Analysis
  • Social Class
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology