Housework is Not Good Exercise

An article from England shows that there is no evidence that housework is good exercise (1). Doctors used to recommend exercising thirty minutes three times a week, but over the past ten years, extensive research has encouraged doctors to shift from recommending three bouts of vigorous exercise a week to more moderate activity that fits into a daily routine. This includes activities such as housework, gardening, and slow walking. The theory is that people are more likely to achieve a goal of using small chunks of time doing leisurely activities than performing a scheduled vigorous exercise program. Many doctors felt that this would provide more health benefits to more people, especially older people.

The researchers selected over 2300 women aged between 60 and 79 from 15 British towns. Previous research has indicated that most women in this age group are relatively inactive. This study shows that the women who engaged only in heavy housework, slow walking and gardening were terribly unfit and often overweight. Women who walked briskly for 2.5 hours a week were far slimmer than the group who did housework. The brisk walkers also had far slower resting heart rates, which is a sign of heart strength.

The authors of this study conclude that while the new recommendations on physical activity may be achievable by a larger proportion of the population, there is very little evidence that some of the suggested activities, such as housework, have any significant health benefit. Other recent studies from the University of Orleans in France and the Medical College of Georgia confirm that you can't become fit unless you exercise vigorously enough to markedly increase your heart rate (2, 3).

Fitness refers to your heart. To become fit, you have to exercise vigorously enough to make your heart stronger. That means that intensity makes you fit and no amount of very casual exercise will make your heart strong. Your heart is a muscle. The only way to strengthen a muscle to exercise it against increasing resistance. When you start to exercise, your leg muscles contract and squeeze veins near them to pump blood toward the heart. The pumping of muscles forces a large amount of blood to fill the chambers of the heart forcing it to contract against increased resistance from the increased blood from your leg muscles. Pumping against increased resistance makes your heart stronger and you more fit. So if you want to become fit, you need to pick up the pace of your exercise at least twice a week.

1) Dr Debbie Lawlor, Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK. Is housework good for health? Levels of physical activity and factors associated with activity in elderly women. Results from the British Women's Heart and Health Study 2002; 56: 473-8]. JOURNAL OF EPIDEMIOLOGY AND COMMUNITY HEALTH

2) Effect of two aerobic training regimens on the cardiorespiratory response of prepubertal boys and girls. Acta Paediatrica, 2002, Vol 91, Iss 4, pp 403-408. S Mandigout, A Melin, AM Lecoq, D Courteix, P Obert.

3) Effects of exercise intensity on cardiovascular fitness, total body composition, and visceral adiposity of obese adolescents. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2002, Vol 75, Iss 5, pp 818-826. B Gutin, P Barbeau, S Owens, CR Lemmon, M Bauman, J Allison, HS Kang, MS Litaker.

Checked 1/21/13

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