A new study suggests seniors should forget the maid as the physical act of performing housework can improve their emotional and physical fitness.
Moreover, living in a neat, tidy, well-organized environment may be linked to better health and improved satisfaction with life.
In the study, Kathy D. Wright, Ph.D., RN, CNS, a postdoctoral researcher at the Case Western Reserve University found that older adults who keep a clean and orderly home — because of the exercise it takes to get the job done — tend to feel emotionally and physically better after tackling house chores.
“House cleaning kept them up and moving,” said Wright. “A clean environment is therapeutic.”
Wright and a research team set out to test a theory called House’s Conceptual Framework for Understanding Social Inequalities in Health and Aging. It’s considered a blueprint for understanding how factors such as income, education, environment and health behaviors, like smoking and exercise, influence an older person’s health.
The study’s 337 participants, from 65 to 94 years old, had to have at least one chronic illness, be enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid, have physical restrictions that prevented them from doing at least one basic daily task, such as bathing and dressing, and be unable to manage such responsibilities as taking medicines, handling finances, or accessing transportation.
All lived in Ohio’s Summit and Portage counties.
Researchers discussed participant’s backgrounds and determined physical and emotional well-being from personal interviews. They then used the University of Utah’s Digit Lab, to link geographic and socioeconomic information on the neighborhoods with health data.
Wright said she was surprised to learn that housework and maintaining their property affected the participants’ physical and mental well-being more than such factors as neighborhood or income.
“What I found was that neighborhood poverty did not directly affect mental or physical health,” she said.
The study provided evidence that Wright had observed in her visits: people living in a chaotic environment seemed less satisfied than those in a place that was neat and tidy.
Wright hopes the study shows how important it is for sedentary older adults with disabilities and chronic illnesses to continue physical activities, such as doing reaching exercises while sitting, arm curls and standing up and sitting down in a chair.
The study, “Factors that Influence physical function and emotional well-being among Medicare-Medicaid enrollees” has recently been published in the journal Geriatric Nursing.