Housework 'not strenuous enough' for exercise targets

Woman contemplating housework

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Housework and DIY are not strenuous enough to count towards people's activity targets, a paper has found.

It had been thought they could count towards the recommended 150 minutes of moderately intense activity per week.

But the BMC Public Health study, which surveyed over 4,500 adults, found those who counted housework were heavier than those who did other activities.

Experts said activities only counted when they made breathing more rapid and the heart beat faster.

NHS recommendations do say housework does not count towards the 150-minute goal.

But the researchers in this paper say there has been a move towards promoting a "lifestyle approach" to physical activity - encouraging "domestic" activities in people who may not take part in sports or go to the gym.

And they warn that, while any activity is better than none, people should be aware that they still need to meet the moderate activity target on top.

Eating too much?

Participants completed a detailed interview about their activity levels, whether they played any sports or did formal exercise as well as their diet and smoking and drinking habits.

They were particularly asked about activity linked to looking after their homes.

Start Quote

Your exercise should make you breathe harder, feel warmer, and make your heart beat faster than usual. ”

End Quote Chris Allen, British Heart Foundation

Domestic housework in 10 minute bursts or more accounted for 36% of the reported moderate to vigorous physical activity people said they did.

But when weight and height were taken into account, researchers found that those who counted housework as exercise were heavier than people doing other exercise for the same amount of time.

Among women, just a fifth reached the weekly exercise target if housework was discounted.

The research team, which included experts from the Universities of Ulster, Sheffield Hallam and Wolverhampton as well as Sport Northern Ireland concluded: "Domestic physical activity accounts for a significant proportion of self-reported daily moderate to vigorous physical activity particularly among females and older adults.

"However such activity is negatively associated with leanness, suggesting that such activity may not be sufficient to provide all of the benefits normally associated with meeting the physical activity guidelines."

Eating too much?

Prof Marie Murphy, from the University of Ulster, who led the study, said: "Housework is physical activity and any physical activity should theoretically increase the amount of calories expended.

"But we found that housework was inversely related to leanness, which suggests that either people are overestimating the amount of moderate intensity physical activity they do through housework, or are eating too much to compensate for the amount of activity undertaken."

She added: "When talking to people about the amount of physical activity they need to stay healthy, it needs to be made clear that housework may not be intense enough to contribute to the weekly target and that other more intense activities also need to be included each week."

Chris Allen, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Your exercise should make you breathe harder, feel warmer, and make your heart beat faster than usual.

"So, unless your household chores tick all these boxes, they won't count.

"If you're daunted by the prospect of a 150-minute target, think of it in 10-minute chunks.

"It doesn't necessarily mean forking out for a gym membership either - try a brisk walk on your lunch break or make a resolution to take the stairs rather than the lift each morning."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Just as I always suspected, although this should help promote my new range of exercise/cleaning products in time for xmas. There's the dumbell duster (20kg with a duster attached, great for forearms), kettlebell kitchen spray (only a 2 handed swing with immaculate form will dispense the spray) and the barbell broom (comes with free interchangeable mop head). Available now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Of course it isn't. We can't afford to live in big houses, so it only takes 5 mins now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    I don't think men should be allowed to comment on this story because they have no idea how physically demanding housework is. I dusted the other day but had to sit down after 5 minutes with a painful cramp in my fingers. In the past I've broken into a sweat just thinking about pushing the Hoover around. What I don't understand is why I'm starting to look like a right fatty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Housework not a strenuous Surely not!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Don't let Cameron and Osborne find out, otherwise they will be demonising people who do housework slowly as 'lazy' non-contributors to the nation's health.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    6.Knut Knutsen
    'Feed processed food to rats or mice and even with an exercise wheel to hand they'll gain weight.'
    'you don't really understand how weight gain works. It essentially comes down to calories.'

    Knut has a point. More calories are extracted by digestion from cooked food than raw and from ground up food than solid chunks. Calorie measures are only a rough guide.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Housework 'not strenuous enough' for exercise targets

    I once told my wife that, its a mistake i wont make again

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Flicking a duster or dead-heading the roses won't burn off the calories I agree.There are those who have immaculate houses and gardens which they do themselves and they are slim and fit and others whose idea of clean is interesting and who are overweight, a generalisation perhaps but so is this study

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Exercise can be defined as anything that increases the heart rate and respiration rate above the normal. So house work, done with a little vigour is exercise, pressing the on-switch on a labour saving device is not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    "Your exercise should make you breathe harder, feel warmer, and make your heart beat faster than usual. ”
    I find getting out of bed ticks all those boxes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    If it's not strenuous enough then make it more challenging... try it with small children in the house :)

    Housework with a 2 year old has two 'advantages'...
    - Firstly, there will be more housework (I'm sure I put those toys away 5 minutes ago)
    - Secondly, you'll be constantly dropping whatever you're doing to run over to the new death trap they've found (despite a meticulously childproofed house)

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    There is confusion over the difference between exercise and activity - and who needs what. Most people do not need the levels of fitness that require strenuous exercise. A few hours of activity everyday is enough for many.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Why are comments always put on articles like this? It always feels like another excuse to pick on the "fatties". If you put strenuous effort into it it will make a difference, if you potter around taking your time, it won't. Same with walking. I would much prefer to have a few extra pounds than a judgemental attitude any day of the week!

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Do these people get paid to come up with this stuff? There are actually jobs out there for people to do this? People actually get paid to do this when so many can't even find a job? This country has gone, totally gone, dead as a parrot, a Norwegian one obviously, the EU wouldn't allow any other.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Housework, it is a job for athletic men, not delicate young ladies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    @GingerPimpernel: Of course. But this is largely irrelevant (and I would have thought obviously not the kind of 'walking' I was referring to) given that the vast majority of people do not do these things. @HilaryJ: in case you somehow missed, I acknowledged that it's preferable to alternatives. The attitude of the people your describing seems to me a large part of what keeps them unhealthy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Depends how you do your housework in my opinion ;)

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Who on Earth ever said housework was exercise?

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Exercise only works if you actually make effort.

    On a sidenote could someone please waste some time doing a study into how many calories are used reading a web-story? Eyestrain + Thought process + Scrollbar movement. I am hoping reading this wasn't a total waste of time :)


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