Burn, baby, burn—calories that is. Everyone burns fuel doing everyday activities. Scientists even have a name for it: non-exercise activity thermogenesis. It’s the energy you use walking up stairs or lifting grocery bags, and with a little imagination, it’s easy to turn mundane activities into calorie-burning opportunities.
The best part? Research suggests these activities can help with weight management and actually count toward recommended exercise guidelines. Moderate to vigorous physical activity and weight outcomes: does every minute count? Fan JX, Brown BB, Hanson H. American journal of health promotion : AJHP, 2013, Mar.;28(1):2168-6602. (The CDC recommends two-and-a-half hours of aerobic activity and two days of strength training per week.)
Your Action Plan
For decades, researchers assumed you needed to break a sweat—or at least raise your heart rate for a prolonged period—for an activity to count toward exercise guidelines. But new research is causing scientists to rethink those beliefs. One study, for example, found that short bouts of higher-intensity exercise were associated with a decreased risk of being overweight or obese. Moderate to vigorous physical activity and weight outcomes: does every minute count? Fan JX, Brown BB, Hanson H. American journal of health promotion : AJHP, 2013, Mar.;28(1):2168-6602. ("Short bouts" refers to fewer than 10 minutes of physical activity.)
These findings should encourage us to take advantage of all the opportunities to get active, from the kitchen to the laundry room. Here are eight activities that sneak exercise into your routine while also crossing things off your to-do list.
Whether you're buying groceries or a new pair of shoes, shopping means walking, and walking burns calories (we’re talking upwards of 200 calories per hour). How many steps/day are enough? For adults. Tudor-Locke C, Craig CL, Brown WJ. The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity, 2011, Jul.;8():1479-5868. You can get an even better workout by parking far from the store’s entrance and avoiding elevators and escalators. Bonus: Try two stairs at a time to really get things moving.
Vacuuming, sweeping, or Swiffering is good for 150 calories per hour. So turn on some tunes and blast away those dust bunnies (and a few extra cals). Next time you do laundry, pick up the basket and twist your torso from side to side for a few reps—you've just snuck in a quick oblique workout.
Working in the kitchen—everything from chopping veggies to washing pots and pans—burns around 75 calories in 30 minutes. Ditch the electric mixer and stir batters by hand to give your arm muscles some extra loving.
Before you roll your eyes, we aren't trying to say you're going to get healthy sitting down all day long. But there are things you can do while parked in a chair to get in a bit of exercise. Try lifting your shoulders to your ears. Next, tighten your core, squeeze your butt, and let the muscle toning begin.
5. Washing Your Car
Washing your car can burn 135 calories in 30 minutes. Add in a few sets of calf raises to reach the roof of the car and a few sets of squats to wash the tires—you'll get in a quick leg workout while making your car shine.
Get off the bus or train one stop early to go the extra mile—literally. Extra credit: Walk along the curb to improve balance and work your core (safety first, though).
7. Shoveling Snow
Don’t let bad weather stop you from working out—aerobic exercise is just a shovel away! Coagulation and fibrinolytic responses to manual versus automated snow removal. Womack CJ, Paton CM, Coughlin AM. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 2004, Apr.;35(10):0195-9131. Shoveling snow for 30 minutes can burn over 180 calories. Ready for more? Put on your headphones with some upbeat music and pick up the pace.
8. Ordering Drinks
You probably think the only thing getting a workout at the bar is your liver. But here's one thing you can do while waiting for the bartender to take your order: Stand on one foot. Not only will it work your core with some basic balancing, it's also a handy way to measure tipsiness too!
While traditional aerobic activity and strength training are key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, everyday activities can be a great way to get moving.
Originally published March 2012. Updated April 2017.