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 3.

    Anyone that actually exercises knows this. Same goes for walking. Walking for 30 minutes, or 3 hours, should not be exercise. If it is, that's purely an indication of a gross level of unfitness. Yeah, walking is better for you than sitting around or driving, as is doing some hoovering. But that doesn't make either of them 'exercise'.

  • 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 136.


    The lead researcher was Prof Marie Murphy. Funny how everyone is assuming that they were all male and that housework is women's work.

    Even those men who say they do it are either 'helping' or their wife/partner is unwell.

  • Comment number 1.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    @Knut Knutsen: Evidently you don't really understand how weight gain works. It essentially comes down to calories. Processed food is undoubtedly (usually) less unhealthy, but providing you're not consuming too many calories it's no more likely to make you obese than healthier options. Blaming things like processed food is an excuse for gluttony and an unwillingness to become more active.


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