These household chores may take the place of your workout

By Margaret Heidenry

Keeping a clean home and finding time to hit the gym can be a struggle. But there’s good news for neatniks who want to work out!

A recent study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine explores something called high-intensity incidental physical activity, or HIIPA.

“The idea behind HIIPA is that even doing one or two minutes of high-intensity activity at a time counts toward the recommended 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week,” says Joey Daoud, a fitness coach and CEO of New Territory Fitness, an online platform delivering sub-20-minute daily workouts.

So by ramping up your housework, you can meet your fitness needs. Remember, your heart rate needs to reach a high-intensity level. If you’re breathing heavily and you feel your heart pumping, you’re on the right track. (The exact number of calories a person can expect to burn varies, and largely depends on a number of factors, including what you’re doing and your overall body mass index.)

So get ready, get set ... clean!


Good for stretching

Every good workout should start with a thorough warmup. So start your routine with dusting. As you reach and bend, you’ll be stretching your back muscles and preparing your body for the intensity of other cleaning chores.


Doing the laundry
Good for toning your upper body

Instead of thinking of laundry as a chore, treat it as a bite of exercise that yields fresh towels and strong arms.

“Doing laundry works the upper extremity muscles,” says Corie Colliton, project manager at Zoro, an e-commerce company focused on providing customers with home items.

“All three arm muscles — the deltoids in your shoulders and the bicep and tricep muscles in the upper arms — are engaged in the process of sorting, carrying, and hanging laundry.”

Expect to burn up to 78 calories per load. Keep that dirty laundry coming, kids!


Organizing a cluttered basement, garage, or attic
Good for cardio and strength training

“The type of organizing that will get your heart rate up involves a lot of moving and a bit of lifting,” says Daoud.

Tackling the clutter in your basement, garage, or attic will get your heart racing because you’ll be changing positions frequently. You’ll go from picking items off the floor to putting them overhead and moving heavy objects from one side to another.

This chore will mostly engage your glutes, hips, hamstrings, and midline muscles.

“There’s the old adage ‘lift with your legs, not with your back,’ but it’s more important to lift with a neutral spine, which you can do by squeezing your abs and pulling your shoulder blades back,” Daoud says.


Scrubbing the bathroom and kitchen
Good for strength training

Scrubbing involves a lot of arm and shoulder movement, and provides a great opportunity for some resistance work for your biceps, triceps, lats, and rotator cuff muscles. You probably favor your dominant side, but try to balance out the scrubbing equally to work out both arms.

“And to work your legs while scrubbing, try to stay in an active squat and duck waddle to move positions around the floor,” says Daoud.

Expect to burn about 100 calories.


Mopping the floors
Good for cardio and strength training

Aside from getting your heart rate up, mopping is also a great option for toning muscle groups that aren’t often used. For example, mopping a floor involves highly effective resistance work for your arms — and you’ll definitely feel it the morning after if you don’t use this muscle group regularly.

A large, dirty floor can take 40 minutes or so to clean, burning about 100 calories.


Vacuuming the whole house
Good for cardio and strength training

“Vacuuming is a great whole-body exercise,” says Robert S. Herbst, a personal trainer, weight loss and wellness coach, and powerlifter.

Not only do you get in a lot of steps for an aerobic benefit, but you also build muscular strength in your upper body and legs from carrying the vacuum (especially upstairs), moving it from room to room, and pushing the hose back and forth.

Also, all of the stretching and maneuvering improve your balance and agility.

“Some research shows that a half-hour of vacuuming burns about 120 calories,” says Herbst.

If you want to go further, lunge across the room while vacuuming to target most of the muscles in your legs simultaneously, including the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

Generally, lunges aren’t supposed to be done with a lot of weight, so using your body weight with a vacuum cleaner will be the perfect resistance for this exercise.

Make sure to keep your back, neck, and head straight, and don’t let your knee touch the ground. Lunge vacuuming for 30 minutes can burn around 300 calories!


Good for strength training

Planting and tending to a garden involves vigorous yardwork, especially if you take an organic, chemical-free approach.

“Weeding is a constant effort, and squatting several times a week does wonders for the thighs and back,” says Camille Hughes of

Using a compost bin — which requires spinning it to provide aeration several times a week — is also great for the body.

“Without realizing it, I had been strengthening my arms significantly without having to go to the gym,” says Hughes.

Using the wheelbarrow also helps strengthen the arms, torso, and thigh muscles. Remember to maintain good posture to prevent injury.