The perks of doing housework

Older lady holding a cleaning brush

This article presents:

Relevance to the Australian aged care context

Current CHSP funding arrangement arrangements require that providers embed wellness and reablement approaches in service delivery.

Proposed aged care reforms will also require that wellness and reablement is embedded at all levels of aged care service in the future.

The article explores evidence for doing housework to promote health and wellbeing.

This Evidence Hub package will:

Individuals, teams and organisations can use the questions to reflect on strengths and opportunities for improvement in meeting aged care quality standards.   

Note: The population studied was based in Hong Kong. However, key findings can be generalised to the Australian population.

Key findings

Summary of findings

Older adults, housework and physical activity

After retiring, many older people spend more time at home with an increased risk of becoming sedentary. Studies reveal that some housework tasks have similar physical and mental health benefits as moderate-to-vigorous exercises. Therefore, housework can be an important source of exercise, helping a person reach the recommended levels of weekly physical activity (minimum 150 minutes moderate-vigorous exercise).

Housework types that were investigated in this Chu, et al (2023) study included:

Light indoor housework
Cleaning, washing dishes, washing/ironing/drying clothes, cooking.
Heavy indoor work
Vacuuming, cleaning floors, washing windows, washing vehicles, moving furniture.
Home repair work
Lawn or yard work
Outdoor gardening

Additional benefits of housework

Researchers noted that housework enables a person to meet family obligations, thereby fostering a sense of meaning and purpose by supporting others. This was not directly investigated in the research but was acknowledged as a contributor to wellbeing.


How housework influenced health and wellbeing

Housework promoted better physical and mental health.

Survival (longevity)

Researchers drew conclusions about the relationship between doing housework and days of survival. The voracity of these conclusions is questionable, but are included as a matter of interest.

“Take home messages”

Reflective questions

Do age and/or gender stereotypes influence how I/we provide services?
  • Is it expected that older people won’t be able to do housework and will need services?  
    Do we think that getting older is strictly a one-way street of decline that must be compensated for OR can we provide interventions to improve/maintain function?  

  • Do we consciously or subconsciously think housework is predominantly a woman’s role in the home?  
    Do we encourage men to engage in housework, or compensate with services instead? 
    Research suggests men may benefit proportionately more from doing housework than women. Can/does this influence our assessment and intervention approaches with male clients?  

  • Do our team and clients understand that housework can add life to a person’s years? 

    Do we help clients understand that:
    1. Doing a variety of housework tasks improves their health?
    2. It is not necessary to do “heavy” housework to get health and wellbeing benefits (although this is good to work up to!)?
    3. Housework can support mental health and help them sleep better?
    4. Being active in housework will improve ability to participate in other meaningful activities?

    What strategies can we use to share this knowledge with clients to promote reablement?

    Do I understand how the LifeCurve™ framework can promote participation in housework and reablement? LifeCurve demonstrates that:
    1. the inability to do housework represents a concerning decline in independence.
    2. this is an ideal time to engage in reablement to prevent rapid decline in independence.
    3. maintaining the ability to do housework can help people stay in their own home for longer.

    Can we contextualise/promote housework as beneficial physical activity, rather than chores?

  • When we notice a decline in a person’s ability to do housework, do I/we:
    a) recognise and respond to it as a reablement opportunity or
    b) increase services to compensate?

Helpful resources

Ageism – Joanna Maxwell from the Australian Human Rights Commission delivered an excellent presentation about ageism at KeepAble’s “Re-think Reablement” forum. It aligns strongly with wellness and reablement principles and encourages viewers to examine their view of older people, particularly the tendency to engage in ‘benevolent ageism.’ We encourage you to view it here

LifeCurve™: This evidence-based, visually engaging framework is extremely helpful in explaining age-related functional decline. It can help your aged care team understand why it is so important to ‘do with’ instead of ‘do for’ when working with clients. It can also show clients how they can influence their ageing journey to have improve their quality of life and have ‘more good days.’

Visit KeepAble’s e-Learning and downloadable/printable resources.

Everything you do for me, you take from me

This topic will enhance your team’s appreciation of the physical, cognitive, social and emotional benefits of everyday activities. It will help them realise that every activity that we do for a client, robs the client of the ability to maintain or build their abilities. When your team appreciates these concepts, they can better share the principles with clients, motivating them towards wellness and/or reablement.

You can find KeepAble’s e-Learning or Bite-size learning online.

The health and wellbeing benefits of…

It is important for staff and clients to understand how routine daily activities help maintain health and wellbeing. To enhance your discussions about this evidence hub topic, you may like to review ‘The health and wellbeing benefits of cooking,’ will be available to download soon.

This is just one of a proposed series, addressing a range of daily activities. If you would like to stay up to date with new releases, please connect to KeepAble’s Count Me In membership.

You can review the full article here: The perks of doing housework: Longitudinal associations with survival and underlying mechanisms.

Chu, L., Gong, X., Lay, J.C. et al. (2023)