New research has found that elderly men across Europe and the US are doing less housework than elderly women, which could be affecting their health as they miss out on the chance to be more physically active.
Carried out by researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology, Germany, the study used self-reported data from 15,333 men and 20,907 women aged 65 years and over from Germany, Italy, Spain, UK, France, the Netherlands, and the US to look at a possible link between the time spent doing housework, time spent sleeping, and health.
Participants were asked to report the total time they spent per day on 41 activities in 5, 10 or 15-minute increments. Activities were divided into three different categories — cooking, cleaning and shopping, gardening and maintenance, and childcare.
The researchers also asked participants to report on the total amount of time they spent sleeping per day, as well as whether they felt they were in poor, fair, good or very good health.
On average it was elderly women who spent the most time doing housework, almost five hours a day, compared to around only three hours a day for elderly men.
The team also found that those who did more housework reported better health, with men and women who spent 3 to 6 hours a day on housework reporting feeling healthier than those who spent 1 to 3 hours on chores per day.
However, women who did long hours of housework combined with too much sleep — more than 8 hours — or too little sleep — less than 7 — reported poorer health. However, for men this combination was still associated with good health.
Author Nicholas Adjei commented on the results saying, “Engaging in a few hours of housework may be beneficial to the health of older adults. However, we were surprised to see significant gender differences when looking at the combination of time spent on housework activities and time spent sleeping.”
Some of the main differences observed included the type of housework men and women spent time on, with the team finding that across all countries included in the study men spent less time cleaning, cooking and shopping than women, spending just 88.7 minutes a day on these tasks compared to the 217.9 minutes a day spent by women.
Women spent less time on gardening and maintenance tasks, 38.5 minutes a day, compared to men who spent 68.8 minutes a day on these tasks.
The study also revealed that elderly women in Italy and Germany spent the most time on housework (around five hours a day), while women in the US spent the least amount of time doing housework (four hours a day).
In contrast, elderly men in Italy spent the least amount of time on housework (2.7 hours a day) and German men spent the most time on housework (4.2 hours a day).
Adjei added that, “The percentage of those aged 65 years and above is increasing globally due to higher life expectancy. It is important to understand how older adults spend their time in these later years and the possible positive and negative implications for their health.”
A variety of previous studies have also suggested that doing chores around the house and garden could boost health by helping seniors engage in light physical activity. Previous research suggests that some of the benefits of housework include a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks, stroke or heart failure, improved sleep, and a lower risk of mortality.
The results can be found published online in the open access journal BMC Public Health.