Cleaning for Calories

It was my first full day off in over a month. Instead of lying on a warm, sun-drenched, tropical sandy beach with an umbrella drink in my hand, I spent it doing chores. I washed dishes, did laundry and vacuumed the floor.

I hate to shatter the illusion you most certainly had of me as a glamorous fitness professional jetsetting around the world. I was wearing Prada shoes if that helps. I know it helps me.

While I was in the tub with a scouring pad and a can of Bar Keepers Friend (did I mention I’m not very good at the domestic arts?) I began to wonder…How does a bathtub get so dirty? Are these fumes safe? Does this count as my workout for the day?

Tragically, the answer seems to be: Not so much.

Does doing housework burn some calories? Of course it does, but the number of calories it actually burns is minimal.

The American Heart Association recommends that we get at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity 5 days a week, or 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity 3 days a week, in addition to 2 days a week of moderate to high-intensity muscle strengthening activity.

Unless you are attacking those stains on the floor like Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, chances are your household chores do not get you out of going to your next Spin class.

There was actually a study done on the subject a few years ago, and its final conclusion was even more disappointing. It found that those who included housework as part of their routine were actually heavier, on average, than those who chose more traditional forms of exercise. Part of the reason seems to be that, oftentimes, we overestimate the intensity of what we’re doing.

For example, vacuuming the floor can burn approximately 170 calories an hour (and I would say that is a very generous estimate) whereas running for an hour at just 5 miles per hour burns over 600 calories. And honestly, who vacuums for an hour at a time anyway?

One of the other reasons why cleaning those mirrors and changing the sheets on the bed may not count toward an effective workout, is that we tend to snack while we are doing our chores.

I know you’re saying to yourself right now, “well, I don’t do that!” Of course you are also wondering how another box of Girl Scout cookies is already empty. Trust me, it happens to the best of us!

The quick and dirty answer is, cleanliness is next to…well, for some of us (me) impossible. It does burn a few calories, but not enough to make a significant impact on your health.

So, if you have both calories and money to burn, you would be better off outsourcing your cleaning and using that time to go to the gym, go for a run, or even a brisk walk.

And, if you know of a good cleaning person, or you want to go to a tropical beach and have umbrella drinks with me, let me know!


Posted on March 2, 2015 .