Making a to-do list can actually have positive effects on your health. (Photo:, StockSnap)

Besides my wife and mother-in-law, I don’t know anyone who enjoys making to-do lists and checking things off one by one. I know there have to be more of you out there, and I’m thankful you exist. Disorganized people like me need you to help us stay focused and on task. However, I think it’s safe to say the majority of people don’t make to-do lists every day.

Still, a to-do list is a great way to ensure we all do something productive every single day. It doesn’t have to be a grand undertaking, but sitting all day is never a good idea. I recommend all the naysayers out there give a to-do list with 30 minutes of chores or light exercise a try. Here’s why.

The research

A new study out of the University of California–San Diego collected data on 6,000 women aged 65–99. Data was collected on these women for up to four and a half years. The women wore a device called an accelerometer on their hips 24 hours a day, seven days a week while going about their daily activities.

Once all the data was collected at the end of the study, the researchers found that 30 minutes of light physical activity (leisurely walking, cooking, washing dishes, playing most instruments) each day lowered the women’s mortality risks by 12 percent. In addition to this, 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (brisk walking, bicycling or doubles tennis) had a 39 percent lower risk of death than those who performed no physical activity.

Staying busy as you get older
We don’t like to spend too much time thinking about getting old or planning for what we’ll do when we get there, but it’s inevitable, isn’t it? So it’s worthwhile to spend a few minutes planning and preparing ourselves for the future. We don’t have to fill our old age with endless amounts of meaningless busy work or frivolous hobbies, but if we make good habits now, we’re likely to maintain those habits as we age.

We can be whoever we want to be in our old age if we work hard enough. After all, I’m certain a now-77-year-old Chuck Norris could take all of us in a fight. On the other hand, we’ve all seen older people who shuffle when they walk and appear to be suffering constant aches and pains.

Though we can’t plan for every contingency, if we want to have the chance to be productive members of society in our old age, we have to make the healthy choices that help manage blood pressure, control cholesterol and properly regulate blood sugar. Getting regular exercising, eating a balanced diet and quitting smoking are a good start. Keeping our minds active and alert is just as important, though.

We have to be in the right frame of mind to maintain those healthy decisions. Maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, so it’s probably best to start learning some new tricks while we’re still young. For now, these habits can keep us busy and make good use of our time. Later on, they might literally prevent our brains from atrophying in old age. As you can imagine, this phenomenon can lead to a host of mental health issues.

If we’re fatigued and depressed, we’re much less likely to follow the healthy path. Even just marking things off our to-do lists has been shown to lead to people making healthier decisions. The exercise we put on our list keeps us moving in a positive direction.

As I wrote about in January, 30 minutes of moderate exercise lowers your risk of developing cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and dementia. We already knew exercise was important, but this new research shows that in addition to reducing our risk of developing these serious diseases, even 30 minutes of light exercise on a daily basis can definitively extend our lives.

It can be hard to think of life in such impersonal terms and focus only on the facts. We can’t magically create the motivation necessary for each of us to improve our lives, but when we know real, tangible results are achievable, it’s easier to get up off the couch and be active.

For most people, chores aren’t something fun or enjoyable, but what’s 30 minutes a day in the grand scheme of things? I’d say it’s worth remembering that cleaning the kitchen, organizing the living room or trimming some bushes could save your life.

Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.