I’ve got some good news that might seem like bad news at first: People who do housework live longer than those who don’t. You might be thinking, Ugh, another thing I’d rather avoid, even if it takes years off my life. But instead, look at it this way: Cleaning counts as exercise.
A study from the Norwegian School of Sports Science found that with every minute of light physical activity, one’s risk of death declined. That risk declines even more sharply when we up the intensity of physical activity from light to moderate, plateauing at 24 minutes. That means that all you’ve gotta do is move around semi-briskly for 24 minutes a day.
So what counts as moderate physical activity? A lot of the basic stuff you probably need to get done anyway. Pushing your heavy vacuum across your carpets, scrubbing your filthy bathtub and shoving a fitted sheet onto the corners of your mattress all require some amount of exertion, and therefore qualify as good enough to keep you alive. For a 150-pound person, household chores like sweeping and scrubbing the floors burn around 150 calories per half hour — about the same as jogging a mile in 10 to 15 minutes.
The study combined data from more than 36,000 people over the age of 40 in the U.S., the U.K. and Scandinavia, all of whom wore monitors that tracked their physical activity over a five-year period. During that time, 2,500 participants died (not for reasons related to the study per se, but just because: Death happens, some of the participants were old, etc.). The most active quarter of the group was 60 percent less likely to be among that 2,500 than the least active quarter (or to put it another way, if you never exercise, don’t make any plans for five years from now).
Researchers found that whether that physical activity was part of a person’s job, leisure, workout or housework, the benefit remained consistent. Still skeptical, I asked a personal trainer, whose livelihood depends upon you needing to exercise in a gym, whether cleaning the house could be considered exercise. “Heck yeah it does!” enthuses Alexa Hedwig, a trainer at a YMCA in Connecticut. “I count it, it’s a lot of movement.”
The researchers behind the study similarly emphasized the importance of movement, summing up their findings as a general recommendation of “sit less, move more.” They also calculated the allowable amount of sitting per day before it becomes detrimental to one’s health: More than 9.5 hours of sitting was associated with a higher risk of death.
Basically, it sounds like if you can manage to walk around the office a bit, sweep the kitchen and do some laundry for half an hour when you get home, you’re probably doing pretty good. I couldn’t in good conscience possibly advocate going to the gym and cleaning your house in the same day, though. Life is hard enough.