Do Everyday Activities Count As Exercise?
Updated: Mar 4, 2021
For those of you who grew up in the 70s like I did, you could not escape disco music. The song “Disco Inferno” by The Trammps starts off “Burn baby burn…” That song came to mind because of the lyrics, which got me thinking about burning calories! Everyone expends calories during their daily routine–in fact, there’s even a name for it–NEAT, which stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Simply stated it’s the energy that we use for everything, from walking up steps to texting to taking out the trash. Now, with a little imagination, it’s easy to turn everyday activities into calorie-burning opportunities–no gym required.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the recommended amount of exercise is 30 minutes of moderate activity a day for 5 days. Even more beneficial is combining muscle strengthening activities on two or more of those days. Research has shown that everyday (non-exercise) activities can help with weight management and actually count toward the CDC’s recommended exercise guidelines. Ok–granted most of us might not work up a sweat while doing housework or shopping. But every minute that we are not lounging on the sofa is another step toward good health!
For a long time researchers thought that in order for exercise to count toward physical activity guidelines, you had to be active for at least 10 minutes at a time. But results from a study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion are causing scientists to rethink those beliefs. In this study researchers looked at physical activity in individuals between the ages of 18 and 64, and determined that both long and short bouts of higher-intensity exercise were associated with lower BMI (Body Mass Index) and risk of overweight and obesity. (Long bouts referred to at least 10 minutes of physical activity, while short bouts referred to less than 10 minutes of physical activity–intensity was measured by accelerometer counts per minute).
These findings should encourage you to take advantage of all the opportunities to get active, from the classroom to the laundry room. By turning off the autopilot and performing everyday tasks with a little more speed, energy, and intensity, the usual to-dos can get a sneaky calorie-burning boost. The following is a list of examples (and by no means is it an exhaustive list!):
1. Clean House–Whether it’s vacuuming, dusting, sweeping, scrubbing…you can burn up to 150 calories per hour. So put on some headphones, crank up the music, and clean away! Want a little extra workout in the laundry room? Try carrying the clothes basket in front of you and twisting your trunk from side-to-side for a quick oblique workout.
2. Meal Prep–30 minutes of washing dirty dishes, including scrubbing pots and pans, or chopping veggies is only good for burning around 75 calories. But try adding in some isometrics–that is, try squeezing your butt for an added workout. And baking a cake for dessert? Get rid of the electric mixer and stir the batter by hand to give your arms a little extra attention!
3. Shopping–Uh, I mean actual physical shopping, not online shopping!! Whether it’s shopping for groceries or a new pair of high heels (in case you missed it, you can check out my previous blog entry on what you can do to minimize mishaps wearing high heels by clicking here), you can burn between 120-150 calories per half hour just by walking. Want some additional calorie reduction? Park as far away from the store’s entrance as possible to add some distance to the walk. Also, try to forego using escalators or elevators. That means taking the stairs whenever possible. And if you really want to get things moving–try taking the stairs 2 at a time!
4. Commuting–No, this isn’t where I tell you to ride a bike to work (although that certainly would expend calories!). If you happen to take the train, subway, or bus to/from work, getting off one stop early is an easy way to go the extra mile (and remember, as mentioned above–walking can burn between 120-150 calories per half hour!). Looking for some additional benefit? Try walking along the curb to improve balance and work the core (but please don’t do this in high heels!).
5. Washing the Car–This is a great way to burn 135 calories in 30 minutes. Add in some calf raises to reach the roof of the car as well as some squats to wash the tires and you’ve added in a nice legs workout. Not to mention the money you save by skipping the carwash!
6. Snow Shoveling–Don’t let bad weather ruin your workout–aerobic exercise is only a shovel away! Shoveling snow can burn over 180 calories in 30 minutes. As previously mentioned with house cleaning, put on some headphones, crank the tunes with some upbeat music, and you’ll really pick up the pace!
7. Happy Hour–So what possible benefits can you get from Happy Hour? Don’t wait for the cocktail waitress–walk over to the bar and order those drinks on your own! For added benefit, stand on 1 leg while you’re waiting for the bartender. This will help with core work and proprioception (your body’s ability to tell where it is in space at any given time).
As I previously stated, this is by no means an exhaustive list. While traditional aerobic activity and strength training are key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, everyday activities can be an additional way to get you moving. With a little ingenuity and an open mind, you’ll find ways to add beneficial activity to your daily routine to keep you active, mobile, and independent.
And as always, if you or someone you know needs some guidance in how to stay active, call me at (302)691-9055 or visit my website at www.wildermanphysicaltherapy.com to schedule your FREE 30 minute Discovery Visit to see how Physical Therapy can help. Don’t delay–schedule now!