burn calories cleaning the house

Your Heart Needs More Than Housework

Mix some cardiovascular exercise into your cleaning and gardening routines for better heart health.

By Leah Zerbe


Your Heart Needs More Than Housework

Active housework has health benefits, but you should exercise, too.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Those with green thumbs and ultratidy homes generally live longer, but heavy-duty housework and gardening isn’t enough alone to fully protect your heart health, according to a study published in this month’s American Journal of Epidemiology.

THE DETAILS: Scottish researchers looked at data from three national health survey samples to see how intense domestic physical activity (IDPA), such as heavy housework, intense gardening, and do-it-yourself projects, affected longevity and cardiovascular health. As it turns out, people who spend a lot of time digging in the dirt and cleaning house enjoyed a 31 percent lower risk of dying. Their risk of cardiovascular disease was not reduced, though, suggesting that you need continuous forms of moderate-to-vigorous exercise to help protect your heart.

WHAT IT MEANS: Health and fitness experts often suggest that people include activities like housework and gardening in their daily routine to get some exercise, and that’s still good advice. But the problem with the research that backs it up that everyone’s situation is different. If your household chores include lugging laundry up three flights of steps several times a day, you’re obviously getting way more cardio than someone who folds the wash while sitting on the couch watching soaps. And while we know it may be tempting, don’t let this study deter you from cleaning the house or putting in a native plant garden. Another recent study found that stroke victims who were more physically active—whether it be through scheduled workouts, gardening, or household chores—before having a stroke suffered less severe strokes and recovered faster than people who weren’t physically active.

Bottom line: Keep both formal exercise and daily activity on your agenda.

• Clean house. This study suggests cleaning the home alone isn’t the answer to tip-top cardiovascular health. But not so fast…that doesn’t get you out of vacuuming the living room. Previous studies have shown that housecleaning produces other stress-busting side effects. A 2007 study found that doing housework lowered people’s blood pressure by 13 points. The exercise helped, but having a clean house may also reduce psychological stress, the study authors found. And just one more thing…while you’re in the middle of a therapeutic cleaning, make sure to use nontoxic cleaning products so your lungs are protected, too.

• Mix it up. Every little bit of exercise gets you fitter—even housework or gardening. But if you’re trying to protect yourself from heart disease, put aside 30 minutes a few times a week for moderately vigorous exercise. A study of about 40,000 women found that brisk walking 2 hours a week could slash your risk of heart disease in half.

Published on: May 12, 2009
Updated on: January 23, 2012

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Brisk walking vs. regular pace

I am a petsitter and I walk between 1 1/2 and 2 hours per day. That sounds like a lot of walking but I don't really walk briskly because the dogs stop to sniff etc. Does my walking have value for my heart, or must I walk briskly to get some benefit?


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