For older adults, gardening and "do-it-yourself" home activities like fixing up the house may cut the risk of heart attack and stroke, a new study from Sweden suggests.
In the study, adults ages 60 and over who engaged in high levels of home and garden activities were 27 percent less likely to experience a heart attack or stroke over a 12-year period, compared with those who engaged in low levels of these activities. This finding held true regardless of whether participants engaged in regular exercise.
What's more, those who engaged in high levels of home and garden activities but did not exercise had about the same probability of survival at the end of the study, compared with those who regularly exercised, but did not perform home and garden activities. [Infographic: How Many Calories Am I Burning?]
Given that older adults may find it difficult to achieve the recommended levels of regular exercise, the new findings may be particularly important, the researchers said.
"Promoting everyday [home and garden activities] might be as important as recommending regular exercise for older adults," the researchers write in the Oct. 28 issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
However, the study found only an association, and cannot prove that higher levels of home and gardening activities were the cause of the lower risk of heart attack and stroke. In addition, the best outcomes were seen among people who did both regular exercise and home and gardening activities.
The researchers analyzed information from nearly 4,000 adults living in Stockholm who had not had a previous heart attack or stroke. Participants underwent a physical examination, and were asked how often they performed certain home and gardening activities, such as home repairs, mowing/cutting the lawn and hedges, car maintenance and gathering mushrooms or berries. They also were asked how often they engaged in regular, structured exercise (such as 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week).
At the study's start, those who engaged in high levels of home and gardening activities showed signs of being in better cardiovascular health, such as having lower levels of "bad" cholesterol and blood fats, compared with those who engaged in low levels of home and gardening activities, regardless of regular exercise.
During a 12-year follow-up period, 476 participants had a heart attack or stroke, and 383 died from various causes.
Those who engaged in high levels of home and garden activities were 30 percent less likely to die from any cause, compared with those who engaged in low levels of these activities, regardless of exercise, according to the study.
The findings somewhat contrast with those of a study published earlier this month, which suggested that housework alone may not be enough to make up for a trip to the gym. In that study, people who report housework as part of their weekly exercise tended to be heavier than those who get their exercise through more traditional means.
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Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.