Let’s face it, staying active as we get older isn’t always easy. But you might be surprised to learn that very little effort goes a long way. Simply engaging in light exercise each day can make a big difference in your ability to move around as you age. It's good for your brain, too.

As it stands now, one in four women over 65 years in the United States is unable to climb a flight of stairs or walk just two blocks. A recent study concludes that this condition, known as mobility disability, can be avoided.

Women who spent the most time doing light-intensity physical activities had a 46 percent lower risk of mobility loss compared with women who engaged in less activity.

Over 5,700 women, age 63 and older, were tracked over a six-year period. The women were all enrolled in the Objectively Measured Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Health study, part of the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term national health study that focuses on strategies for preventing heart disease, breast and colorectal cancer, and osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. For seven days, the women in the University of California San Diego (UCSD) study wore a device called an accelerometer that measured all their physical activity.

The monitors revealed that, on average, women in the study spent 4.8 hours a day in physical activity. Women who devoted the most time to doing light-intensity physical activities had a 46 percent lower risk of mobility loss when compared with women who engaged in less activity. Light-intensity physical activity might include gardening, strolling, doing household chores like vacuuming or dusting, taking the dog for a walk, even cooking dinner from scratch.

You don’t have to spend your whole day moving, either. “The highest levels of light-intensity physical activity are unnecessary. After five hours of activity, we observed no further increase in benefit,” explained first author, Nicole Glass, a doctoral candidate in the San Diego State University/UC San Diego Joint Doctoral Program in Public Health. Good news for folks who aren’t interested in breaking a sweat or standing on their feet all day.

There’s also a calorie-burning benefit to engaging in light everyday activities. Here’s how many calories you are likely to burn doing a few common daily chores:

  • Walking the dog - 205 calories
  • Pushing an electric lawnmower or doing other gardening activities - 386 calories
  • Vacuuming, dusting, doing the laundry - 155 calories
  • Grocery shopping - 232 calories
  • The upshot? You don’t have to make a big deal about staying active. Just stop sitting, start moving and maybe get some chores done while you’re at it.

    The study is published in JAMA Network Open.