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Running a Household Can Send Stress and Blood Pressure Levels Soaring

It is the perfect excuse to unplug the vacuum and put up your feet: housework can be bad for the heart.

Simple household chores from cleaning and cooking to carrying out repairs and  budgeting can send stress levels - and blood pressure - soaring, research shows. 

As one of the first studies of its kind, it suggests that the stresses and  strains of modern life do not end when we leave work for the day. 

Instead, the pressure continues to mount up when we return home. 

The scientists from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine recruited  113 men and women in full-time work. 

Each one provided details on how many hours they worked, what level of  responsibility they took on for running the home and the chores they did. 

They then underwent regular blood pressure checks at a local clinic over a  three-week period, before finally wearing a blood pressure monitor for a day to  track changes at work and home. 

The results showed that regardless of the amount of housework actually done,  those who felt they were shouldering the responsibility were at the greatest  risk of high blood pressure.

The findings, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine,  suggest it’s not the workload itself but the stress about how to cope with it  that causes the damage. 

The researchers said: ‘The perceived responsibility for household tasks, rather  than the time spent doing those tasks, is what’s most distressing.’

But some household tasks are worse for the heart than others. 

The strongest link with high blood pressure came from domestic chores done,  such as cleaning, cooking and shopping. 

Next came car maintenance and repair, paying the bills and keeping on top of  the household budget. 

Many parents may not agree, but looking after children had no adverse effects  on blood pressure.  Curiously, the women took looking after pets in their  stride, but men tended to become stressed by the responsibility. 

Although there have been hundreds of studies investigating the links between  stress at work and the risk of heart attacks and strokes, little research has  been done into whether running a home and family has a similar effect. 

Heart disease is Britain’s biggest killer. Around 270,000 people suffer a heart  attack every year and nearly one in three die before they even reach hospital. 

And high blood pressure, which affects one in five people in the UK, is blamed  for half of heart attacks and strokes.

The higher it climbs, the greater the force exerted by blood on the walls of  the arteries when the heart beats. 

Clinical guidelines state the ideal limit for blood pressure is a systolic reading of 140mmHg and a diastolic reading of 90mmHg. 

Systolic is the pressure inside arteries when the heart is forcing blood  through them and diastolic is the pressure when the heart relaxes. 

Household chores increased systolic readings by as much as 4.4mmHg, taking care  of house or car repairs by 2.64mmHg and paying bills by 1.66mmHg. Poorer  families were more likely to be affected than better off ones. 

Although some research suggests vigorous housework may be good for the heart,  researchers believe the repetitive nature of cleaning, for example, may add to  stress-related blood pressure problems rather than alleviate them. 

In a report on their findings they said: ‘Household chores are notable for  their routine nature, often characterised by a relatively low level of  challenge and few intrinsic rewards. 

‘This works supports the notion that the relatively important implications for  the cardiovascular health of both men and women.’

Previous research has linked housework with premature labour.  Once again, the  ‘boring and repetitive’ nature was blamed.


Reference Sources 231
January 14, 2011


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