Housework vs Workout

From a reader:
Recently I have the bad luck of having a high turnover of household helpers and so there have been times when I had to do without, meaning I had to do housework on my own.

During these times, I would still go to the gym but I had to alter my whole schedule to accommodate housework. However, I soon found that doing housework especially the tedious ones (cleaning, ironing, and washing clothes) sometimes drained my strength to the point that I didn't have the energy left to do workouts. There was even a time that I did so much work in one day that when I went to the gym late in the afternoon, I almost passed out during the aerobics class.

What I’d like to know is whether housework can somehow compensate for some workout time. Is it a good way to burn calories? Or if I have to do housework, what adjustments must I make regarding my workout schedule? How many calories does a particular kind of housework burn, if any? Is this useful or beneficial?

Keeping a clean and organized house in the Philippines by your lonesome is definitely a physical challenge. Because of the heat, our houses are designed to be wide open for cross ventilation. But along with the wind comes the dust. Just keeping your house dust-free is a never-ending job. And unless you have labor saving appliances like a floor polisher, vacuum cleaner, clothes washer and dryer, heavy housework like scrubbing or polishing the floors the old-fashioned way can be every bit as physical as a vigorous workout. Here’s an idea of just how many calories can be burned doing typical household chores. Figures are from the Calorie Control Council and are based on a 120-pound individual doing a specific activity for sixty minutes. If you are lighter or heavier than 120 pounds, use the following calculation: Divide the number of calories burned in sixty minutes by 120 pounds. Multiply the answer by your weight in pounds. For example, divide 259 calories (calories burned during gardening) by 120 pounds. The answer is 2.16 calories per pound. Multiply that by 150 pounds. The answer is 324 calories.

Gardening 259
Grocery shopping 194
Housecleaning 346
Ironing 122
Cleaning up after a party 245
Rearranging furniture 360
Stairclimbing 480
Washing dishes 122
Washing the car 245

Now compare those figures with sport or fitness-related activities:
Aerobics 324
Badminton, singles 511
Ballroom dancing 245
Golf 208
Jogging 540
Taking a stroll 165
Weightlifting 302

No matter how fit you are, when your body is not used to a physical activity, there will be a period of adjustment. The length of that period and whether or not you will feel anything unusual (muscle soreness, uncoordination, or fatigue) depends on your current level of fitness, the similarity between the two activities, and how physically demanding the new activity is. It is worse when you are adding the new activity to your existing activities instead of replacing them. An example would be a runner taking up basketball for the first time. Even if the runner stopped running and concentrated only on the basketball, he would probably experience soreness and fatigue because different muscles and movement patterns are required for basketball as compared to running. However, if the runner continued his running sessions at the same time as learning how to play basketball a few times a week, the period of adjustment will be even more “painful”. That’s why the reader above felt like her strength was being drained.

Here’s what she can do to survive having no household help and still continue to go to the gym. On the days that the household chores are heavy (meaning serious housecleaning like polishing the floors, cleaning windows, washing clothes, etc), she should stay away from the gym and just do stretching and abdominal exercises at home. On the days that are light, she can go to the gym and still have enough energy so she doesn’t pass out during the aerobics class. So, her weekly schedule could look something like this: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday would be heavy-duty housework days and Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday could be gym days.

Housework is a form of exercise because you use the major muscles of the body (arms, trunk, and legs) and you can burn substantial amounts of calories. However, it is not as balanced as a formal exercise program wherein a fitness trainer makes sure that you tighten and stretch all your muscles properly. But housework can definitely be a practical way to stay fit while keeping your house clean.

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