Turn Spring Cleaning into Spring Training

The job of cleaning house is never finished. It reminds me of a motivational poster I once saw that had a picture of a man running on a road that was disappearing into the far distance ahead of him. The caption read: "There is no finish line." If you have to clean up after kids, pets or a messy roommate, you can probably relate.

Because cleaning is a never-ending job, why not make the most of it? Turn cleaning into a workout! Because a lack of time is the main reason we skip workouts, this can be just what you need to make it all fit in. A 2005 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that Brits burn more than 50,000 calories a year—nearly 15 pounds of fat—just by cleaning their homes. Let me in on that action!

Like any physical activity, housework can burn calories and tone muscles if you do it correctly. You don’t have to make it to the gym to check a workout off your to-do list. Doctors and fitness professionals now believe that short bouts of relatively mild exercise can help improve your fitness level—especially for those who do little to no physical activity or are just getting started. Now, don’t expect to look like a supermodel or an all-star athlete when you take off your apron and dishwashing gloves, but 30 minutes a day of moderate activity can bring some legitimate health benefits.

The first thing to remember is that if you are going to count this as exercise you have to do more than just stroll around and flip the feather duster a little here and a little there. Try to accumulate at least 10 minutes straight to count it as exercise—and really work it! Make a conscious effort to pick up the pace and move continuously. For the greatest fitness benefit, try to accumulate more steps and movement by leaving all the cleaning supplies in the cabinet and making extra trips up and down the stairs, for example. If you have to make an extra trip to the other room to get the dustpan for the broom, that’s what adds up.

Get started with these tips, which have the potential to transform your daily housework into a daily workout:
  1. Lunge. When you vacuum, perform some walking lunges. Remember to keep your knees directly above your ankles, your back straight and your abdominals engaged. You will know this is working by feeling it in your thighs and glutes.
  2. Go big. Instead of making small circles when scrubbing the shower or cleaning windows, make long, sweeping movements. For example, when you are cleaning the shower door, take long swipes from top to bottom, squatting (not bending!) to reach the lower spots. This will give you a hearty shoulder workout and engage your entire lower body.
  3. Clean to the beat! Turn on the radio or your iPod while you clean. Feel the beat and dance around a bit. Make sure to use some fast music so you'll be encouraged to pick up your speed and break a sweat.
  4. Step it up. Use a stepladder or step stool when you need to reach high areas. You can simulate your own step aerobics class this way!
  5. Twist and shout. When you are loading or unloading your dishwasher or dryer, add a twist-and-reach motion. This movement will serve to strengthen your core and target that "love handle" area around the obliques.
  6. Take a swing. Instead of vacuuming your rugs, take them outside, hang them up, pick up your broom and swing away to beat out dust and dirt. This will involve more muscles than vacuuming alone and help you get some fresh air.
  7. Take the stairs. Instead of making one trip up and down, make multiple trips with the clean or dirty clothes. Remember, the goal here to make more work for yourself, not less.
Not everyone is convinced that housework will do much to help you shape up; however, approaching cleaning and chores this way will certainly burn more calories and help improve mobility. The American Heart Association does count housework as moderate exercise. Again, it isn’t going to get you prepared for a marathon, triathlon, or climbing Mt. Everest, every little bit adds up!

The number of calories you burn during housework depends on several different factors (your current fitness level, your weight, gender, and how hard you're working). Most general estimates say that a 150-pound person will burn approximately 250 calories for an hour of general cleaning, which is higher than the calorie burn of a leisurely two-mile walk. Remember that every little bit of activity helps, so make the most of your time and you'll end up with more than just the satisfaction of a clean house—you'll also have a healthier body!