Sweep Your Way into a Swimsuit

Staying in shape can be a chore. But can doing chores keep you in shape? Absolutely, say fitness experts and spring cleaners alike. Talk about timing. What better news could you get, right in time for swimsuit season?

By Maureen Bogues

While it may not train you for a marathon, a moderate amount of pushing brooms, raking leaves and pounding up and down stairs with loaded laundry baskets can be as invigorating as lifting dumbbells or climbing on a Stairmaster.

And as any parent of a small child can tell you, running after kids, picking up toys, and hoisting strollers might just mean you can cancel that gym membership.

Best of all, no monthly fees — all of the above activities are free. Plus, you get a clean house or yard, play time with a child and some exercise out of the deal.

"I have this house with lots of chores and no money to go to the gym, so it's working out pretty well," said Becky Soglin, a medical editor at the University of Iowa who prefers to stay fit the natural way.

Soglin recently purchased a two-story house and said she "doesn't like the idea of getting in a car to go exercise." She would rather burn calories doing practical, useful things like washing the floor (2.9 calories a minute), mowing the lawn, trimming trees or bushes (up to 7 calories a minute) and walking to work (3 to 6 calories a minute, depending on pace).

"I'm at a computer all day so it's good for me to bend and move in different ways," she said.

Healthy housework

Whether people make a conscious choice to avoid the gym or, for financial or other reasons, can't go, they can still get a good workout doing daily activities. The key, according to experts, is to stay active, even if it's only for a few minutes at a time. Something as simple as not choosing the closest parking stall can make a difference.

Melyssa St. Michael, a certified personal trainer, nutritionist and director of UltraFit Human Performance in Lutherville, Md., said that the key to success lies in having small, moderate goals.

"If you make yourself active over small amounts of time, several times a week, your overall strength and overall cardiovascular fitness will improve," she said.

Wax on, wax off

Because a lot of her clients are older people who are not interested in gym memberships, St. Michael is an expert on how to incorporate exercise into everyday activities like cleaning, watching television or running errands.

It's hard to get aerobic exercise while house cleaning because most activities are start and stop, so St. Michael recommends mowing the lawn or walking the dog for at least 25 minutes to get some aerobic benefit. As for spot exercises, here are three she recommends:

This exercise works almost all of the lower body muscles and the floor is clean when you finish!

Counter push-ups work your arm and shoulder muscles but they use only 20-30 percent of body weight, unlike traditional, more difficult, on-the-floor push-ups.

So you'll know exactly how much exercise you're getting around the house, here's a sampling of daily activities and the calories burned per minute:

Sweeping floor 1.7
Polishing furniture 2.4
Mopping 4.2
Walking *3.0-6.0
Gardening 5.6
Sweeping floor 1.4
Desk work 2.2
Bed making 3.9
Food shopping 4.5
Cooking 3.5
Scrubbing while standing 2.9
* depending on pace

Working it out, working it in

Now that you've got the hang of around-the-house fitness, go for it, but don't go too crazy! Always remember to play it safe.

"The whole key to exercise is to challenge the body to do something more than what it's used to," St. Michael said. And that means different things for different people.

"What's hard for one person may be easy for another," St. Michael explained. "That's why it's important ... not to overdo it."

For Penny Muir, the daily workout begins at bedtime. Her 3-year-old "personal trainer/daughter" keeps her in good shape, said Muir, contributing writer for, How to Stay Off the Diet Roller Coaster, a soon-to-be-published book by registered dietician Linda Omichinski.

"I found that bedtime is actually Stairmaster time," Muir writes. "One trip upstairs for a drink of water and down again. Another trip upstairs to take her to the potty, and down again. A trip upstairs to make the scary things go away, and down again. Another trip upstairs for more kisses, cuddles and tucking in and on and on until one of us finally collapses."

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