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‘Cleaning improves mental health’

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The media reported that working up a sweat while performing household chores might have the added benefit of improving mental health.

What did the media say?

The media reported that working up a sweat while performing household chores might have the added benefit of improving mental health.


What did the research show?

Researchers said physical activity was thought to be linked with better mental health but there was lack of agreement over what type and how long.

They assessed weekly physical activity levels, via a self-reporting questionnaire called the Scottish Health Survey, in 19,842 people. Using the GHQ-12 scoring method, they identified that 3,200 subjects were experiencing psychological distress.

They divided the subjects into categories based on the intensity and type of physical activity they did per week. Using odds ratios they concluded that a lowering of distress was observed with a minimum of at least 20 minutes physical activity a week.

A dose-response pattern was identified, with greater risk reduction for activity at a higher volume and intensity. Domestic activity and walking had similar levels of risk reduction, though this increased for sports.

The results were controlled age, gender, BMI, smoking status and long-term conditions. However, the authors admitted that they could not rule out ‘reverse causality’ – that people did more activity because they were less distressed.


What did the researchers say?

The authors, from the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London, said: ‘Different types of activities including domestic (housework and gardening), walking, and sports were all independently associated with lower odds of psychological distress.

‘This is the first study to our knowledge that has specifically considered the importance of different activity types in relation to mental health,’ they added.


What does this mean for nursing practice?

Professor Ken Fox, from Bristol University’s department of exercise, nutrition and health sciences, said: ‘Mental health is a huge burden to the health service and productivity. This study is helpful as it shows that even low levels of activity can help.

‘But this study is based on just a snapshot of what people say about their mental health and exercise and, so more research is still needed.’

British Journal of Sports Medicine (2008)

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