5 February 2019Indoor Household Chores That Will Help You Burn Calories

There are times when the weather is just so cold or so hot that I don't even want to drive to the gym let alone go outside and exercise or do yard chores. To stay active on those days, I remind myself that there are activities that I could do while also getting my indoor chores completed. This saves me both time and money while I burn calories. I don't routinely replace planned exercise with home chores but I do use them for back-up calorie burners as well as supplemental calorie burners.

The activities I am including in this post are those that I am actually willing to do, do not require a lot of planning, and have minimal required supplies or materials that I already have on hand. Also, they are chores that have to be performed regularly. I know many people absolutely hate household chores and have decided life is too short to do them - they hire others to do them. That is okay - no judgement here. In that case, you might want to have a list of projects you can start and finish within a few hours, along with the materials purchased and on hand. For instance, if you know you need to make more room in your closets, have empty boxes and trash bags ready for donation or recycling. Or have your paint cans purchased and on hand to paint a room.

Activity Intensity Level Expressed as METS - Basic Info

A MET is a metabolic equivalent - it is a measure of how much energy you expend in an activity. Technically, It is a multiple of how much greater that activity is compared to just sitting quietly and doing nothing (which is 1 MET). Activities with higher METS burn more calories per minute than activities with lower METS. You can learn more about exercise intensity and METS at The Cooper Institute's Using MET Minutes to Track Volume of Physical Activity. Also, see the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion's Appendix 1. Translating Scientific Evidence About Total Amount and Intensity of Physical Activity Into Guidelines for more detailed information.

Websites often list activity intensity levels by MET levels - so having a basic understanding of METS can help you quickly pick activities that burn more calories. Of course, when you log an activity in MyNetDiary, the tracker calculates the calories for you.

I am sharing indoor chores that I typically have to do every week to keep my home in some resemblance of order and cleanliness. You might have different goals or chore requirements for your home. For more ideas, see the Compendium of Physical Activities. If you are trying to reach "moderate-intensity" level, choose activities between 3 - 5.9 METS and perform them for 30 minutes of net time (that is, actual move time not including breaks). Moving more is beneficial, so even lower MET activities are helpful. Higher MET activities have the benefit of greater calories burning per minute, but they might be harder to perform for long periods so be sure to keep an eye on actual net minutes when you log your exercise. All activities listed in the Compendium are also available for tracking in MyNetDiary.


Vacuuming is a decent energy burner at 3.3 METS. If I just do the second floor of my home, it takes me about an hour. Based upon my weight (130 lb), MyNetDiary calculates that I burn 139 calories for one hour of vacuuming. I'm not killing myself with this vacuuming effort - I'm basically walking slowly and pushing a device that is powered while occasionally leaning forward. You might think that the calories burn is not very much but consider that my outdoor walk burns only 151 calories per hour. In MyNetDiary, I log "Walking, 2.8 to 3.2 mph (4.5 to 5.2 km/h), level, moderate pace, firm surface." As you can see, vacuuming is a reasonable option for burning calories. And the extra bonus is that I have clean floors after I am finished burning those calories.

Cleaning the bathroom

I don't enjoy cleaning the bathroom but it needs to be done. The good news is that it is a moderate-intensity activity at 3.5 METS. When I log this item in MyNetDiary ("Scrubbing floors, on hands and knees, scrubbing bathroom, bathtub, moderate effort"), I burn 151 calories in one hour. That might feel like a bit of a cheat given the nature of the chore, but consider that it burns the same amount of calories as my one hour outdoor walk. The bonus is that when I am done, the bathrooms are clean and I have saved a boatload of money by not hiring someone to do it for me.

Tip: consider buying knee pads or a kneeling pad (e.g. gardener's pad) - it makes a huge difference with comfort while you clean. I especially like the kneeling pad since I can either sit or kneel on it as needed - this is particularly helpful when I am scrubbing the bathtub.

Moving furniture, household items, carrying boxes

Carrying loads of boxes or household items is a very good calorie burner at 5.8 METS. If I log 30 minutes of this activity, MyNetDiary shows that I burn 291 calories. Wow! This is a great motivator for me to work on finishing the reorganization of my home office or keep difficult rooms organized.

When I have to carry those boxes or loads up and down my stairs, then I burn even more calories since the MET level increases when stairs are involved (9 METS for carrying loads up and down stairs). Reorganizing a room and getting rid of unwanted items by carrying each load to the garage or basement will help you rack up the calories. Word of advice - use good lifting and carrying technique so you don't injure yourself. See UC San Diego's How to Safely Lift and Carry to prevent injury to your hands, knees, back, or neck while moving heavy objects.

There are many other common household chores that burn a fair number of calories: window washing (3.5 METS), mopping floors (3.5 METS), and painting walls or furniture (3.3 METS).

Tip: the more you can use stairs and/or increase your weight load, the more calories you will burn for any activity.

When I rethink regular chores as opportunities for supporting my health while saving money, I find that they are less burdensome to perform. This tactic might not work for everyone but it has certainly helped me frame it in a more positive way. And afterwards, I feel good - my home is cleaner, less cluttered, looks nicer, and it stays that way as long as I do these tasks regularly. And a clean and organized home can be better for your health - read The Powerful Psychology Behind Cleanliness at Psychology Today. Give it a go!

Katherine Isacks, MPS, RD, CDE
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


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