Sweeping away the house-cleaning blues
by Sandra J. Hartley, M.P.E., Ed.D.
One thing you can count on at home is dust. It settles. Dirt tracks in. “Stuff” collects. The mess just returns week after week. I envy people who do not care about dust bunnies, floor crumbs, and clutter. Yet I feel out of sorts when the place isn’t tidy.
Keeping a place clean week after week seems to be an exercise in futility… or is it? Research suggests we should view regular domestic activity as a health and longevity advantage. Couch potatoes who settle into hours of television are missing out by not taking advantage of physical activity in the home.
Decades of research support the health benefits of regular, moderate physical activity. Health Canada even notes improved wellness for those who simply “spending less time sitting.” Surely housework is going to get some brownie points here.
Can housework be part of a fitness routine?
Can housework and gardening count as exercise? You bet. The good you get depends on how long and how much effort you give. The added benefit of “housercise” is that your place looks great and it doesn’t cost you a fitness membership!
In 1997, O’Brien Cousins published an illustrated guide to kitchen warm-up and home workout ideas, just using the features of your home. Any non-stop physical activity creates warmth, and that burns calories. You can ramp up the pace of housework if you want to get more exercise out of it, and get it done faster.
The strength and endurance needed for house work does add up and contributes to an active healthy life.
Add up your effort:
Health benefits come with time and intensity of effort. Intensity of effort is measured in Metabolic Equivalent Units or MET units. These units are rough estimates of the energy spent by an average person weighing 60 kilos. For instance, a 60 kilo sitting adult will burn about l kilocalorie per kilogram per minute. This is a MET unit of 1.0. If you weigh more than 60 kilos, your MET estimate adjusts slightly up. If you weigh less than 60 kilos, your estimate adjusts slightly down.
Mild activities like slow walking or moving around the house dusting double the effort of sitting. These activities have an effort close to a MET unit of 2.0. Just as brisk walking brings you into deeper breathing (3-5 METS), so does brisk vacuuming or lawn mowing. Housecleaning rarely competes with the intensity of jogging (6-8 Mets) or hard running (9-10 METS). Still, sweaty housework, scrubbing walls and windows, and moving furniture, at 5 METS x 60 minutes adds up to about 300 kilocalories spent! Compare that to your gym workout.
Just one activity, say 30 minutes of vacuuming, or cutting the lawn, uses about 100 kilocalories of your energy each week. If you do that 52 times a year, that is almost a pound of fat. Add in all the sweeping, scrubbing, carrying groceries, wiping, dusting, folding, and so on, and you can see that hiring a house cleaner might NOT be the best decision for your health.
People who move live longer
Everyday lifestyle habits add up over the years. In the 1950s, researchers studied the heart health of British bus drivers compared to ticket takers on London’s double decker buses. This all-male study showed longevity differences based on occupational activity. Drivers, who sat all day, fared poorly for heart disease compared to ticket takers, who moved around the stairwells collecting tickets.
The active things you choose to do everyday DO matter. Things like walking the dog and cycling to work are healthy choices. But you may be choosing to be more active simply by living in a walk-ups apartment or multi-floored townhouse.
So jump out of bed, chase those dust bunnies, push that vacuum, pound dough for homemade bread, carry home your groceries, and sweep away the house cleaning blues.
About the Author
Sandra J. Hartley is a Professor Emeritus with the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, University of Alberta.
Too Fit to Fracture, Part 2
Strength training to help aging bones
By: Lora Giangregorio, PhD
After the age of 40, we lose 0.5% to 1% of the bone mass in our skeleton each year. A diagnosis of osteoporosis means that bones have weakened to the point where they could break from a simple fall.
Osteoporosis affects about 1.4 million Canadians. One in three women and one in five men over the age of 50 will have a fracture due to osteoporosis at some point, often caused by a fall. Fractures can lead to other health problems and loss of function, or independence.
Some quick tips on strength training
Exercises to build muscle strength often involve hard work against resistance. They often involve movements you do every day: push, pull, carry, squat, bend, step, lift. You can do them with weights at the gym, or you can be creative at home. Examples:
- Push-ups at the counter (instead of on the floor, just push against the counter).
- Get in and out of your chair without using your arms 10 times a day. Do 10 squats or lunges while watching TV. If that is too easy, squat while holding a heavy object, or do one legged squats.
- If you like yoga, practice going from downward dog to cobra, and repeat. This is a good way to work your upper back muscles.
- Check out our video series for more ideas or consult an exercise physiologist.
What’s the right intensity? When you start out, aim for eight to twelve repetitions with good form. Then, make the exercises harder as you get stronger. That’s key! To build strength you have to increase the challenge over time.
Do exercises for your abdominal (stomach) and back extensor muscles to promote good alignment and posture, and reduce back pain. (The back extensors are the muscles that run along the length of your spine and help you stand straight)
Here are some exercises that help build these muscles:
If you find exercises like these too hard or too easy, an exercise physiologist or Bone Fit-trained exercise professional can find a version that is right for you.
Getting the blood moving
Research suggests that doing “moderate or vigorous” physical activity every day has substantial health benefits. Moderate physical activity means you should be working hard enough that you are breathing harder, and it feels a little like work. You could probably carry on a conversation, but would have to stop to catch your breath to sing a song. Vigorous physical activity is when you working at an intensity where you are breathing hard, and you would have to stop what you are doing to say more than a few words. Be sure to choose an intensity level that is safe and appropriate for you. If you are not sure, check with your health care provider.
Get your heart rate up with walking, dancing, or even challenging yard work, for at least 10 minutes at a time. Accumulate at least 150 minutes a week, or 20 to 30 minutes a day.
About the Author
Dr. Lora Giangregorio is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo. She is also the Schlegel Research Chair in Mobility and Aging. Her research program focuses on strategies to reduce the risk of fracture, and increase physical activity and mobility in older adults. Lora translates her research into practice by working with government and non-profit organizations and linking with community-based programs. She collaborated with Osteoporosis Canada to develop the Too Fit to Fracture exercise recommendations.