Housework May Not Be Sufficient To Confer The Full Benefits of Exercise

Matengo Chwanya's picture

While doing household chores is certainly better than just sitting around in the house, a new study suggests that it may not be enough to help you meet your minimum exercise requirements.

150 minutes of moderate physical activity is the recommended minimum, but unfortunately, a greater deal of the population cannot satisfy this requirement. It is actually for this reason that domestic work started being suggested as a way of helping people meet their exercise quota.  DIYs, gardening, and other home improvement exercises were suggested to get largely sedentary people some avenue other than structured exercises to get their daily dose of exercise, and receive their attendant benefits.

Day 067 - Housework hero

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be entirely the case.

Some studies point to an ambivalent association between domestic physical activity and the probability of developing cardiovascular disease. A secondary analysis of data from 30 European nations also shows that when domestic physical activity is compared to leisure time physical activity, there is only a tenuous association between it and Body Mass Index.

And now researchers from Northern Ireland have come to a similar conclusion, noting that many who listed domestic physical work as part of their physical exercises tended to be more overweight.

A Secondary Data Analysis

A secondary data analysis is the critical examination of data that had been previously gathered by another party for some other reason. In this case, our researchers used data gathered as the Northern Ireland Sport and Physical Activity Survey 2009/2010. The data for this survey was acquired through face-to-face interviews, and participants ranged in age from 16 years to greater than 71 years. On top of physical activity, the survey also gathered information on alcohol and smoking habits, food consumption patterns and sociodemographic info.


A total of 4,563 people were interviewed in the survey, and they were asked to list any strenuous domestic physical work that they had undertaken over the previous week. The intensity of the exercise was gauged by whether or not it raised one’s breathing rate or brought about sweating.

Domestic physical activity was subdivided into four categories; DIY, housework, gardening and other activity. Only stretches of domestic work that lasted more than 10 minutes were recorded. The volunteers also reported their weight and height.

All these values were then used in statistical analyses highlighting correlations between BMI and domestic physical work.

The Results

The percentage of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) that was attributed to domestic work was greater in women than men across all ages, reaching 41% in women aged between 31-40 years.

It was found that an inverse proportionality existed between high domestic MVPA and leanness, which in this case was a rough measure of BMI. The possible explanation for this situation is that most domestic work involve small muscle groups resulting in a sense of fatigue hugely disproportionate to the energy used.

In other words, engaging in a lot of domestic work may leave you with the impression that you have really worked out, but the sad reality is that you have not done as much as you think.

This suggests that when formulating a regime for physical activity within the house, domestic chores should not be the core activity.

That said, I will iterate here that a little exercise is better than no exercise at all, so if domestic work is the only way you can get some exercise, do it. Then work on getting a planned routine so that you can get your 150minutes of exercise, or if you choose, pick some high intensity training that could provide similar benefits in a shorter time frame.


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