The daily grind

Work: mop, sweep, vacuum, mow the lawn, wash the car, trim the hedges, carry the groceries, put away the groceries, pull weeds, make the bed, scrub the tub, scrub the toilet, fold the laundry.

Oh, come on – I don’t like it either, but we all have to do it. At least it isn’t as hard as it used to be, according to Garrison Keillor (“The Old Scout: Ambition and the Honesty of Everyday Work,” A Prairie Home Companion), who himself has been told he works too hard. He stirs our memories as he describes the way his mother worked, sometimes with the help of her six children.

Her list of usual chores included cleaning, cooking, washing clothes, and hanging them on the line, but one particular chore has etched a vivid memory for Keillor. His description of the “late-summer orgy of canning” takes those of us who have been there back in time. The children picked every last tomato, string bean, ear of corn, and cucumber and then helped chop and slice the vegetables. The kitchen was a literal boiler room, with clouds of steam spewing from the pressure cooker and teakettles. His mother, with hair as wet as if she had been swimming, slaved away, washing jars, steaming tomatoes, and canning.

See what I mean? Now, that was work! But even these days, with our modern conveniences, everyday activities can still burn off many calories. 

Chores as exercise

According to researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the US Surgeon General, household tasks such as pushing a vacuum, folding clean clothes, and scrubbing your toilet, qualify as moderate physical exercise. Housework utilizes all of the body’s muscle groups, which builds strength, endurance, and flexibility. For example, picking up the children’s toys works the muscles in your arms and shoulder muscles. Hauling those toys throughout the house and up the stairs works your legs and buttocks. Walking the length of your house while vacuuming provides a full body workout and also burns calories and increase heart rate-if done fast. 

Many experts agree that any household chore can become aerobic if a person strives to reach the target heart rate zone. (To estimate your target rate, subtract your age from 220-this will give your maximum heart rate. 50% to 90% of this number is the target heart rate zone.) To make a chore more aerobic, push yourself to work faster and scrub harder and longer. Lower-intensity chores include doing laundry, making the beds, ironing, washing dishes, and cooking. For housework that provides moderate intensity, sweep the kitchen or sidewalk, wash windows or walls, and mop. High-intensity chores involve moving furniture or boxes and carrying heavier items up and down the stairs. 

When using daily cleaning activities as a way to greater fitness and strength, it’s important to remember to bend properly, using the legs rather than back. Start daily household chores with slow, gentle stretches. When stretching, it is always better to ease into them, and if the stretch hurts, go slower until the muscle feels warm. Another good tip to remember is to alternate cleaning activities to prevent overworking particular muscle groups and to avoid burnout. For instance, vacuum a couple of rooms, then scrub the bathroom, do some laundry, or make the beds. 

‘Vigorous dusting’

Finally, in order to get a good workout, you must be moderately active at least 30 minutes every day- 10 minutes at a time. If you’ve been sedentary up to this point, start slowly with ten minutes of moderate activity and work up. Pay attention to how you feel as you perform each task. If you begin to feel too tired or short of breath, slow down or move to an easier chore. Let’s see how many calories we can burn by doing common chores for 30 minutes:

  • Vacuuming: between 75 and 125 calories, depending how fast you are!
  • Making beds: 70 calories
  • Cooking: 40 to 50 calories
  • Raking leaves: 110 calories
  • Lawn mowing: between 150 and 225 calories, depending on how much you have to push

So – get those mops and brooms out and attack those floors. Be vigorous about your dusting! If you want even more action than the chores provide, just go up and down your stairs a couple of times between cleaning or loads of laundry. The American Council on Exercise ( says that walking stairs can burn as many calories in a 30-minute period as jogging at a 12-minute mile pace or cycling at 12 to 14 mph. That translates to burning over 300 calories for a normal-weight man or woman. Plus, the faster you go, the more calories you burn. And the activity can be broken down into 10 minute intervals, making it even more doable!

As a helpful resource, I have lots of articles on healthy ingredients and recipes that you can implement into your daily life.

If you’d like to dig deeper into my journey of discovering God’s plan for health and wellness, check out my book, Made For Paradise: God’s Original Plan for Healthy Eating, Physical Activity, and Rest.