Does housework count as exercise?
Most household chores can count toward your physical activity quota, but to really stay fit, you need to make sure you're getting your heart rate up.
By Caitlin Boyle
Especially now that my baby is crawling, I take great pride in shiny, spotless floors. Each week, I hunt for dust bunnies under the couch, polish away scuffs, and go over the surfaces with a mop not once, but twice. It takes a good 30 minutes to do my downstairs. This got me to wondering: Does all that mopping count as cardio?
Let’s put it this way -- I won’t be canceling my gym membership anytime soon.
What Counts as Exercise?
Some research does show that errands and chores can help improve cardiovascular fitness -- especially if that’s the only exercise you get. In fact, a recent study found that women’s lib -- that is, moving from doing chores all day to sitting in front of a desk -- is partially to blame for our ever-increasing waistlines. What's more, elderly people who stay active by doing their own housework live longer than those who hand off those daily duties. Still, if you’re hoping to get buns of steel by way of vacuuming, well, that’s probably not going to happen.
The bottom line is that most household chores can count towards your physical activity quota, but to really stay fit, you need to make sure you're getting your heart rate up; most household chores simply aren’t intense enough to qualify. Mopping, washing dishes and folding laundry feels like a lot of work -- but such chores are hardly a workout.
The Center for Disease Control says that adults should engage in a total 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (like brisk walking) each week. Alternatively, adults can exercise at a more vigorous level (such as jogging or running) for a total of 75 minutes each week. Regardless of the intensity of your aerobic activity, you also need at least two days of muscle-strengthening activities, such as lifting weights.
Generally, if you can speak a sentence or two but couldn’t sing the chorus of your favorite song, you’re working out at a moderate intensity. If you can’t even squeak out a few words without pausing to gasp for air, you’re exercising at a vigorous level.
With that ‘talk test’ in mind, it’s easy to see that chores like shopping, cooking, or doing the laundry don’t count towards your weekly exercise goal. These tasks simply aren’t challenging enough! Exercise helps maintain good cardiovascular health by temporarily elevating your heart rate, and most household chores usually don’t have that effect.
However, some more intense tasks, like pushing a lawnmower or shoveling snow, definitely count towards your weekly goals. In fact, a 150-pound person burns 400 calories per hour of snow shoveling.
Make Your Chores Work
While washing the dishes is not the same as attending a rockin’ Zumba class, there are ways to make chores a bit more challenging.
“Add bonus strength and cardio movements to your tasks,” suggests Gina Harney, a personal trainer who blogs at Fitnessista.com. “Do counter pushups while waiting for pasta to boil, add in extra squats while dusting furniture, go up the stairs as quickly as possible, and give yourself five sit-ups for every piece of laundry you drop as you pull it out of the wash!” Just be careful not to get too distracted by your chores; maintaining good form while you do squats, lunges, and sit-ups helps prevent injuries.
To make your household chores even harder, don’t clean rooms in the most efficient order; the more you walk from one end of the house to the other (or up and down the stairs!), the better.
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