Using fitness as an incentive for housework

By Drum Digital
26 March 2012

While washing windows, mopping floors and doing other household chores are hardly popular, housewives and house-husbands can help to motivate themselves by seeing housework as a fitness workout.

"The worst thing is inactivity," said Ingo Froboese, a professor at the Health Centre of the German Sport University in Cologne. "Our billions of body cells don't care what kind of exercise we do. The main thing is getting exercise and that goes for doing housework too. It helps to stimulate metabolism and to stay healthy."

Rainer Stamminger, a professor of home economics at Bonn University, takes a similar view. "Not regarding housework as a burden, but using it as a personal fitness programme provides motivation for unloved chores," he said. "When the weather's fine, hang the laundry out to dry on the balcony or in the yard. For one thing, it'll smell better afterwards and you'll get some sun as well."

Modern household appliances such as washing machines, dryers and food processors have greatly reduced the amount of physical activity needed in the home. As Stamminger noted, "Housework today has nothing in common with housework 50 or 100 years ago. It's far less strenuous. Washing laundry by hand, for example, used to be hard work."

So in order to get exercise while doing household chores, a few small tricks may be necessary. For instance, Froboese recommends having the laundry basket in another room during ironing, and fetching each piece of laundry separately.

"Getting in an extra 3,000 steps a day is the equivalent of walking two kilometres," Froboese said. He said his research showed that "suboptimally challenging exercise has the best effect on the body." In other words, you don't have to break a sweat doing the housework to stay in shape.

Andreas Mueller, a sports scientist with the German Fitness Instructors' Association, disagrees. Light physical activity during housework does not promote fitness, he said. Instead, a person would have to climb up and down a ladder while washing windows, for example, which is similar to a workout on a step machine. In general, he said, a chore has to be strenuous enough to cause muscle aches to have any health benefits, such as kneading by hand, washing laundry by hand or chopping wood.

Gathering dirty laundry, ironing, and sorting and putting away clean laundry also takes a lot of energy, Stamminger said.

Froboese, Stamminger and Mueller all agree that housework is much more palatable when combined with fitness or entertainment.

"Someone who views housework as a fitness programme is happier than someone who regards it solely as a burden," Stamminger said. "Washing windows and ironing are very unpopular. Cooking meals and garden work are much better liked. A lot of people in our studies find ironing less onerous if they can watch television at the same time."

Stamminger does not advocate a lot of diversion while doing chores, however. Rather, he thinks they should be performed expeditiously.

"I'd wash all the windows in one go because you've got to prepare the wiper, wash-leather and cleaning bucket," he said, adding that it was a good idea to do a chore from start to finish and not interrupt window washing to cook or wash laundry, for example. "This is also sensible from an environmental standpoint. Someone who washes only a few windows needs more water and produces more wastewater."

Hard work burns a lot of calories. The Consumer Initiative, a Germany-wide consumer protection organization, has listed the number of kilocalories that a person weighing 70 kilograms will burn by doing various household chores for 15 minutes: tidying up, 30; ironing, 35; cooking, 40; hanging laundry, 50; mopping the floor, 60; making the beds, 62; vacuum cleaning, 70; washing windows, 83; working in the garden, 88; climbing stairs, 121.

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