January 23, 2017

Turning Chores into Your Workout

Burn calories and build muscles as you do your everyday chores

by Rob Fischer

I confess that I’m a bit of a fitness fanatic. Depending on the time of year, between five and six times a week you’ll find me hiking, biking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing. I also include a strength-building workout with these exercises. But there are times when I replace those exercises with a different kind of workout.

I’m talking about chores. The beauty of letting chores double as your workout is that you accomplish two very important things at the same time. You’re completing that much needed chore and you’re doing your body a huge favor by exercising it.

From a health standpoint, the 21st century lifestyle marked by affluence and convenience hasn’t done our health any favors. We’ve become sedentary and overweight and it’s killing us—literally!

chore workoutThe health benefits of physical exercise are numerous—even when we consider chores as exercise. Exercise can help you:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Strengthen muscles
  • Metabolize food better
  • Sleep better
  • Relieve stress and anxiety
  • Improve your mood
  • Strengthen your bones
  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Improve brain function
  • Lower bad cholesterol
  • Keep your cardiovascular system in good working order
  • Oxygenate your blood
  • Improve your complexion
  • Keep joints flexible and strong
  • Improve insulin receptivity
  • Prevent colds, flu, and many more serious diseases

Wow! In short, your body needs exercise. Even though you may not feel like it at times, your body was designed to move.

Three Key Types of Exercise

Clean yourself skinnyLet’s consider three different kinds of exercise as you transform your chores into workouts. The three types are aerobic, strength-building, and stretching. All three offer vital contributions to staying fit. The best fitness plan combines all three.

Without getting too technical, aerobic exercise gets you breathing more heavily and your heart beating faster. Aerobic exercise is important for your cardiovascular system, burns the most calories, and offers many of the benefits listed above.

Strength-building puts good stress on your muscles that increases their mass. Strong muscles translate to strong bones and make daily tasks easier to perform. You can achieve strength-building in two ways. Weight or resistance is one way to build muscle. And by the way, your body can serve as that weight. For instance, climbing up and down a ladder to wash windows or perform some other task exercises your arms and legs using the weight of your body.

The other way you build strength is through repetition of lighter duties. For instance, trimming a hedge with a manual hedge-sheers is repetitive work. Each motion exercises your arms, shoulders and back without putting heavy strain on them. But you’re building strong muscle!

Stretching is important for two primary reasons. First, stretching can help prevent injuries while you’re working out or doing chores as exercise. Stretching does this by warming up your muscles and flexing muscles and joints in a controlled manner. Second, stretching provides you with greater flexibility, range of motion, and agility.

Other Contributing Factors

When doing chores as exercise, you will want to consider a number of factors in terms of gauging their effectiveness as a workout. Some of these factors include:

  • Your age
  • Your fitness level
  • Whether you are overweight
  • The duration of the activity
  • The intensity with which you engage in the activity
  • Whether it’s hot, or cold (if working outside)
  • And there are many other factors

For instance, if you’re in your mid-to-late fifties, significantly overweight and it’s hot outside, mowing the lawn with a push mower may be quite a strenuous exercise for you. The good news is that you’ll probably benefit more from such a workout than someone who is very fit.

You’ll find apps and websites that list calories burned for a specific chore and length of time. I’ll provide some for you here as well. These may be helpful, but I wouldn’t focus too much on them. They are average numbers that don’t necessarily take all the above factors into account.

Of course one of the biggest factors to consider is the chore itself. So let’s look at some chores that can double as workouts.

Chores that Double as Workouts

To some extent, nearly any chore can become a workout, but not all chores are created equal. Let’s take gardening for example. Transplanting a few flowers into standing pots will provide an entirely different workout than hand-tilling, cultivating, planting and weeding a large vegetable garden. Keeping that in mind, below are a few outdoor chores that could make great workouts. When available, I’ve provided approximate calories burned.[1], [2], [3]

  • Mowing the lawn – burn 400 calories per hour
  • Weed-whacking – burn 272 calories per hour
  • Edging the grass along a sidewalk – burn 272 calories per hour
  • Heavy gardening – burn 272 calories per hour
  • Window washing – burn 136 calories per hour
  • Car washing – burn 136 calories per hour
  • Power-washing your house – burn 272 calories per hour
  • Trimming a hedge, trees or shrubs – burn 204 calories per hour
  • Raking leaves – burn 204 calories per hour
  • Hauling, chopping, and stacking firewood – burn 500 calories per hour
  • Laying sod – burn 272 calories per hour
  • Putting in a sprinkler system or repairing one – burn 204 calories per hour
  • Cleaning out your gutters – burn 272 calories per hour
  • Shoveling snow – burn 400 calories per hour

While indoor chores tend to be lighter, some can still offer a good chore-workout:

  • Washing dishes – burn 100 calories per hour
  • Vacuuming – burn 170 calories per hour
  • Cleaning windows – burn 200 calories per hour
  • Doing laundry – burn 100 calories per hour
  • Sweeping floors – burn 156 calories per hour
  • Scrubbing on hands and knees – burn 190 calories per hour
  • Painting rooms – 136 calories per hour

Tips for Enhancing Your Chore-Workout

When working out in a gym, jogging, doing yoga, and their like, we tend to pay more attention to our bodies and what we’re doing. In a good workout we pay attention to our form, try to achieve full range of motion for a particular exercise, and we usually count repetitions. We also monitor our breathing and heartrate to some extent and think about how many calories burned.

When doing chores, however, we don’t typically concern ourselves with those issues. In fact, we tend to use our bodies as economically as possible. While that makes the chore easier, it also minimizes its impact as a workout.

7 Tips for Turning Chores into a Workout[4], [5]

  1. Stair stepping – When carrying the laundry downstairs (or doing some other task), instead of just making one trip, make multiple trips up and down the stairs to enhance your workout and build muscles.
  2. PlankingPlanking is a great way to build your core and firm up your middle. When you’re on the floor scrubbing, take a few minutes to plank.
  3. Curls – If you’re weed-whacking, carrying a bucket, or using some other weighty tool, stop every few minutes and do curls using the weight of the item to augment your chore-workout.
  4. Stretching – Got a broom or mop? Grab it with both hands, raise it above your head and slowly stretch down to touch your left foot with your right hand. Then raise the broom above your head again and slowly stretch down to touch your right foot with your left hand and repeat multiple times.
  5. Squats – When unloading the dishwasher or reaching for something on the floor, instead of bending over, keep your back straight and slowly lower your body using your thigh muscles. Then raise yourself back up again using the same leg muscles. Repeat multiple times for strength-building.
  6. Stay hydrated – It’s easy to become dehydrated while doing chores. Experts recommend drinking 8 ounces for every 15 minutes of a workout.[6]
  7. Work to the beat – You don’t have to be Mary Poppins to have fun while doing chores! Enhance your chore-workout with music. Doing a chore to the beat of a song can invigorate and make the chore more fun.

Think about the household chores before you today. Following the above tips, how can you leverage that chore into a workout, build muscle, stretch and burn calories? What steps could you take to get the most out of your chore-workout?

Chores can double as workouts to help keep you fit and healthy. And when you turn your chore into a workout, you’re benefiting twice with little more effort! Why not start today?

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Rob FischerRob Fischer has been writing professionally for over 35 years. His experience includes ghostwriting, creating curricula, study guides, articles, blogs, newsletters, manuals, workbooks, and training courses. He has written over a dozen books and serves as an editor for a nationally known copywriter.




[1] California Casualty Insurance, “Home Maintenance: Turn it into a Work-Out,” March 2016, http://mycalcas.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/home-maintenance-infographic1.jpg.
[2] Calorie Lab, “Calories Burned: Home Activities,” nd, http://calorielab.com/burned/?mo=se&gr=05&ti=home+activities&q&wt=150&un=lb&kg=68.
[3] Sophie Breene, “9 Ways to Strength Train Outside the Gym,” Greatist, July 11, 2013, http://greatist.com/fitness/9-ways-strength-train-outside-gym.
[4] Jason Anderson, “Turn Spring Cleaning into Spring Training,” Spark People, nd, http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/fitness_articles.asp?id=1470.
[5] Charlotte Andersen, “16 Ways to Lose Weight Doing Chores,” Shape, nd, http://www.shape.com/fitness/workouts/16-ways-lose-weight-doing-chores#slide-2.
[6] Gina Shaw, “Water Tips for Efficient Exercise,” WebMD, July 7, 2009, http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/water-for-exercise-fitness.

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