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Could vacuuming more make you weigh less?

There’s new evidence that we’re burning fewer calories doing housework these days.

By Sally Wadyka Feb 28, 2013 5:06PM

I like to think of myself as anything but sedentary. I get out to run or hike several times a week, and I to get up from my desk to stretch or even do a couple of stomach crunches once or twice during the work day. Oh, and did I mention I have a toddler? (Anyone who’s ever seen one of those in action understands why I don’t get to sit still for long.)

MoMo Productions/Getty Images

But I will confess that I burn very few calories doing housework — mainly because I pay someone else to tackle the majority of our home’s vacuuming, dusting and scrubbing. And, apparently, I’m not alone in my avoidance. In 1965, American women spent an average of 25.7 hours a week on household chores (including cleaning, cooking and laundry). By 2010, we were spending a mere 13.3 hours a week at these pursuits.

Wonder what we’re doing with all the extra time we no longer spend cleaning? We’ve swapped it for time in front of the tube, apparently. As hours spent on housework declined, there was a corresponding uptick in time spent watching television — about eight hours a week in 1965 compared to 16.5 hours a week in 2010.

The newly released study that generated these figures looked at time-use diaries from thousands of both working women and those who stayed home. And, not surprisingly, they found that with this switch to more sedentary time at home, women were burning significantly fewer calories. Modern working women burned about 132 fewer calories at home each day than did their counterparts in the ‘60s. And stay-at-home types’ caloric expenditure dropped a whopping 360 calories per day. (And that doesn’t even begin to take into account how many more calories we’re consuming during all that TV watching time!)

So, is the solution that we all need to fire up our vacuums more often? Thankfully, no. Doing housework today — due to new lightweight, efficient tools — isn’t the exercise it once was. We do need to spend less time sitting (in front of the TV and otherwise) and more time being active, however. But you already knew that.

The researchers have all the usual suggestions — walk to the mailbox, play ball with the dog, chop vegetables for dinner instead of buying something ready-made. And if you’re still having a hard time coming up with ways to stay more active around the house, I’m happy to lend you my toddler.



Feb 28, 2013 6:42PM

No one told me about having a cleaning lady when I worked. I cleaned my own home, did the laundry, cooked breakfast and dinner, packed lunches for my husband and kids and still put in a 40 hour week at work. My kids are grown and I never paid anyone to do my work for me. Guess that's why I'm still a size 6.

Feb 28, 2013 6:43PM
Why don't you write an article comparing how many calories men burned doing housework in the 1960's versus now?  Is that because it would be 0 versus 0?  Or just do the article on people, rather than separating out women and making it sound like it's women's job to cook and clean?
Feb 28, 2013 7:28PM

G-man:  Maybe us women would have more sex with their husbands if we weren't treated like we are your mothers!  If we do all the cooking, cleaning, planning and taking care of everyone, that is called a mother.  I do not want to have sex with a child but a man who can do and figure things out ont his own!!

Feb 28, 2013 7:30PM
I am cleaning and cooking from morning to late afternoon just about every day of the week and I am not a maid, but rather a very clean and tidy person.  You can name it from A-Z and I tackle it.  I worked a full time job and then part time for years and still managed to keep everything in order...even when we had pets.  Let's face it, some women love to clean, some hate it.  I also spend much time outdoors during the cold and warm weather and always finding something to organize and manage there too.

To me taking on a cleaning job has major benefits afterward as you step back when you are done and admire your hard work!

Feb 28, 2013 7:33PM
What a rude, mean, inacurate article. I'm the typical woman. This is my life. Women still do 10,000 times more work than men around the house, and other wise. I have never met a man that did anything but come home, and SIT in front of the TV, drinking beers all night. My first husband, and now, second have never done any work around the house. I go to work, get the kids ready for school, drive the kids into day care, when I come home after a full day at work, I make dinner, do the dishes, clean-up after dinner, get the kids their bathes, and put them to bed. No time for TV. On the weekends I clean house, do laundry, run errands, etc. What does my husband do ? He goes to work for 40 hours a week, says I'm "done". Gets the clicker, and sits on the couch.
Feb 28, 2013 6:42PM
Yes, so can cooking good healthy meals for the family, you cook they clean. Or, just some movement in general. Maybe ditch the jam jams on the weekends during the day time....
Feb 28, 2013 7:41PM
Who has time to sit in front of the TV. (TV is horrible nowadays anyway)  I am in my late 40's (single) work 2 jobs. Take care of a house, yard and 4 pets.  For exercise I take the dog to the park for  mile walk or use the treadmill at home if the weather is not good.
Feb 28, 2013 8:29PM
I am a single mother & have been for 15 years,  work full time, keep up a house & a yard & have 2 kids &  I'm still a size 6. I do agree people sit on their asses way to much, but it's not just women. I would have to say the majority of men (that I know anyway) are professional couch potatoes & would never think to lift a finger.
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