Monday, October 21, 2013

The Houseworkout

What exactly constitutes a workout?

This is the questioned raised by this article. If you can't be bothered to click the link, I'll sum it up for you. A study conducted by the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland tried to gauge whether or not people were getting useful daily exercise, and if so, how much. Over 4,500 men and women were asked about their exercise habits. The researchers (according to the article) surmised that housework was insufficient exercise. Why? Because those who counted it as a workout were more likely to be overweight than those who cited other forms of exercise.

Seriously?! Since when is the size of the participants the determining factor of what counts as exercise? The researchers considered the possibility that the overweight participants may have been 'rewarding themselves' with treats after doing chores. Ok people, the eating of treats has absolutely nothing to do with the intensity or value of a physical activity. Yes, you may cancel out your caloric burn, but that doesn't mean you didn't glean all the other marvelous benefits of exercise just because you tucked into a burrito afterwards.

Now, granted, this is from Britain's Daily Mail, a newspaper whose most useful function is probably lining hamster cages all over the United Kingdom. I haven't bothered to track down the study itself, but still, the article continues to perpetuate the notion that exercise must equal thinness.

However, it did get me thinking... This is certainly something people of ages past never had to think about. I'm sure back in the day, housekeeping was fabulous exercise. Did you ever read Little House on the Prairie? I betcha Ma had some serious guns from pumping all that water, or better still, hauling it up from the creek. And carpet beating--wow, what a workout, not to mention scrubbing laundry on a board, or even cranking a mangle, which was celebrated as one of the great mod cons of it's time.
 Aww, sweet Ma... doing all that wash by hand and smiling, too!
For better or worse, we now live in the age of button pushing. I'm thankful for all my appliances... truly, from the bottom of my heart, but I will grudgingly admit that housekeeping probably isn't the great workout we'd like to think it is, though it is movement and you know how I feel about that. You can get some NEAT from getting neat. (heh heh. sorry.... couldn't resist.)

So imagine my delight when I happened upon this book at my local library. Yes, people, it's called
The cLEAN Momma Workout, the title of which begs the question of whether we'll ever see it's cLEAN Daddy counterpart? Sadly, I suspect not.

Now, at the risk of sounding like that old joke about actors--you know the one--how many actors does it take to change a lightbulb? Five--one to actually change the bulb and the other four to stand around and say, "I could have done that!" I've actually tried to turn housecleaning into a workout. (After over 20 years as a fitness buff, I've tried just about everything.)

We used to live in a multi-story townhouse and I noticed my heart rate spike every time I lugged our behemouth of a vacuum up and down the stairs. So one day, I popped ABBA Gold into the CD player, strapped on my heart rate monitor and tried to clean the house as quickly as I could.

It was a decent workout. I think I burned something like 200 calories in a half hour, so to the extent that calorie burn is an indicator of good-workout-ness, it was pretty good. And it was nice to have the house clean at the end, but I decided it wasn't something I wanted to do on a regular basis (by that I mean cleaning as a workout, not just cleaning in general). It just wasn't very fun, and I found it tough to balance the goal of cleaning with that of exercising. Even though I was moving quickly, it took longer to do the tasks because I was trying to chase the burn or keep my heart rate up. I decided I'd rather just get my chores done as quickly as I could so I could do a devoted workout.

And that is one of the reasons motherhood hit me like a ton of bricks. I like to do things in 'devoted' blocks of time. I'm going to clean the kitchen, check! Now I'm going to exercise, check! Off write a blog post, check! Well, as anyone who has spent any time with small children knows, they don't give you blocks of time. It's tough to get the dishes done when trains are being catapulted into the toilet, you know? Learning to do things in little spurts is the way to go with small people, so I was game for the cLEAN Momma Workout. Bring it on.

The author is Carolyn Barnes, who happened upon this routine when her life was basically falling apart. She was in the middle of a divorce and filing for bankruptcy. She was out of shape and her house was a mess, so she developed a series of exercises to do while she was doing chores. They involve barre-type leg lifts while doing the dishes, squats with the laundry basket, lunging with the vacuum, that sort of thing.

The move that got it all started is one she calls 'the rag drag.' You put a rag on the floor under your foot and do the series of lunge-type moves while you clean the floor. It does give you a nice burn in the stationary leg, and it's a common move you'll see in functional fitness-type workouts. It is indeed functional for mopping up spills, but it's tough to maintain good form while getting into the corners. I know this because I've spent the last few days incorporating Carolyn's moves into my daily chores.

I did plié squats to empty the dishwasher, pushups against the kitchen counter while reading email, lateral lunges to put some books on the shelf. I can't say it was earth-shattering for me, partly because I already do some of these things (I did wall squats while waiting for DH to pick me up at the market the other day) and partly because I would really rather just get my chores done. Stopping to stretch with the tea towel before folding it just doesn't make sense to me. I'd rather fold it, then stretch. But I know not everyone loves exercise as much as I do. I'll rearrange my day to fit in a workout, but if that's not your thing, this might be a good fit.

Carolyn says she has attention deficit disorder, and I can absolutely appreciate how these mini-spurts throughout the day would be appealing over a dedicated time of exercise. If you have ADD, check it out. Then again, if you have ADD, you might not have gotten this far in my post.

There is a section on diet that contains your pretty standard diet advice, plus some nice looking recipes. The book is heavy on motivational talk--how you're worth spending time on yourself and you shouldn't just hang out in yoga pants all day. (That bit hurt a little, I'm not going lie.)

I do really like how she has you incorporating movement into your daily life. It takes some getting used to, but after a while, I found myself naturally squatting to pick things up instead of hinging from the hip. Bending forward is easier, but it can be tough on your back, so Carolyn's tips can be really beneficial in more ways than one.

If you're already working out and generally active, you might not find the book to be of overwhelming value, though I do think it's worth a look-see. I'm going to try a couple of the recipes and it did give me some new ideas for creative moves to do while I'm waiting for the kettle to boil.

So is housekeeping a workout? I'd say if you incorporate Carolyn's exercises into your routine, you can certainly add some very valuable movement in your day. I do think Ma would be in a state of complete shock that we feel the need to do this, but times have changed. I'm off to push the button on my washing machine.

1 comment:

  1. The best way to get a workout cleaning the house is to only have hardwoods and to sweep & mop every day, picking up furniture and whatnot. Wait, that's what I do most days. ;)