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Spring Cleaning Calorie Burn

Shape up while you clean up

Gain Without Pain

If you're not a big fan of housework now, you will be really cranky if you pull something. No one advises doing elaborate stretches before you start cleaning house, but there are right and wrong ways to do things:

  • When you vacuum, use your legs, Findley advises. "Most people vacuum using their arms and shoulders. That is hard on the neck and upper back. Instead of standing in one place and pushing the vacuum around, walk from one end of the room to the other, then start a second 'row,' like mowing a lawn."
  • Mop with your hand on top of the handle. This keeps your back straight, Findley points out. Also, make sure you get a mop that extends to suit your height. For those with carpal tunnel syndrome, some mops come with handgrips.
  • Use your legs to mop, as well. Put one leg in front of the other and lunge on each stroke.
  • Never lift anything by leaning over! Bend your knees instead. Never lean over to clean a toilet, either, Findley says. "Squat or kneel on one knee."

What You Will Burn

Not everyone is convinced that chores will do much to help you shape up. Gabe Mirkin, MD, the former radio talk-show health expert, cites a British study that showed many women who did heavy housework and slow walking were unfit and overweight, while those who walked 2.5 hours a week were slimmer.

But another study, at the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas, found that participants who fit more physical activity into their daily routines made long-term fitness gains similar to those made by people who did traditional gym exercises like stair-climbing and jogging.

For its part, the American Heart Association counts housework as moderate exercise. "You'd have to do four hours a day of it if you were training for a marathon," jokes Press.

No one disputes that doing chores can burn calories. How many you burn will depend on your fitness level, your weight, and the time you spend cleaning or gardening. But here are some estimates, based on a person weighing 150 pounds doing 30 minutes of chores:

  • General cleaning: 127 calories
  • Cooking: 92 calories
  • Trimming shrubs: 157 calories
  • Laundry: 133 calories
  • Vacuuming: 123 calories

Compare these counts with walking for 30 minutes (at 3 mph), which burns 155 calories.

While even the most intensely calorie-burning chores can't replace structured exercise completely, every little bit of activity helps. And along with the fitness benefits come added dividends: A cleaner house, a beautiful yard, and a sense of satisfaction.

"In the garden or house you can see the fruits of your labors immediately," Mandel says, "That's nice. And gardeners lose track of time. People in the gym hardly ever do."

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