Interior Cleaning

12 Jobs to Do Around the House Instead of Going to the Gym

Get motivated and get moving with household tasks that burn calories, tone muscles, and boost mental health.

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Swap Your Barbell for a Broom

We know that exercise is essential to longevity, but how we choose to get that exercise varies widely. For healthy adults, the CDC recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, five days a week. This means getting your heart pumping by walking, running, biking…or even doing household chores! But which household tasks are the best substitutes for a gym workout? Read on to find out.

Scrub, Vacuum, and Mop

First of all, remember that most of us need 30 minutes of consistent, heart-pumping exercise every day. If you’re using housework to reach a fitness goal, be sure you don’t overestimate the amount of time you’re actively cleaning. As one study found, overestimating can backfire, leading to weight gain. So, set your phone’s timer to 30 minutes, put on your favorite music, and get cleaning. Your floors are a good place to start: Thirty minutes of vigorous scrubbing, vacuuming, and mopping can burn between 99 and 166 calories, depending on your weight and the intensity of activity.

Refresh Linens

When it comes to exercise, “every moment counts,” according to Dr. Andrea LaCroix of the University of California, San Diego. “Improving levels of physical activity both light and moderate could be almost as effective as rigorous regular exercise at preventing a major chronic disease,” notes LaCroix. In your efforts to accumulate physical activity, don’t discount the benefits of stripping and remaking beds, which burns between 187 and 300 calories for 30 minutes of work (depending on your weight and the level of intensity).

Reboot Your Bathrooms

Spend at least 30 minutes to an hour cleaning your bathrooms, and you’ll be rewarded with shiny, germ-free surfaces—and strong arms. To make the most of this activity, thoroughly cover all the bases: scrub the shower stall and bathtub, wet-vac floors, polish faucets and mirrors, and wipe down all hard surfaces. While you’re at it, zap away additional calories by removing and laundering the shower curtain and towels. Because all this work will increase your heart rate and make you breathe deeper and faster, be sure to pay attention to the cleaning products you use. Products that contain VOCs (volatile organic compounds) have been associated with adverse health effects, so use alternatives like these 13 eco-friendly cleaning solutions.

Related: 8 Ways to Mildew-Proof Your Bathroom

Meal Prep and Cleanup

A delicious, home-cooked meal is healthful, and so is the prep and cleanup before and after. Chopping vegetables, setting the table, scouring pots, and doing dishes by hand are all ways to stay active and burn a few extra calories—more than a few, in fact. Standing and washing dishes by hand for 30 minutes can torch between 187 and 300 calories, depending on your weight and how vigorous you are with that sponge.

Reorganize Your Office

Even the most tedious tasks can have hidden health benefits. For instance, although standing while you work won’t burn many calories, it does have many other health benefits, including reduced back pain and improved blood sugar levels. In general, the more you stand, squat, and pace during your work day, the better. You can even burn calories simply straightening up your home office. So, the next time your work space is out of control, put on some upbeat music, and start organizing. Just make sure you tidy for at least 30 minutes (at medium intensity) so you get your full daily dose of activity. 

Related: Home Office Ideas to Steal from 9 Creative Companies

Mow the Lawn

Pushing a lawn mower for 30 minutes can definitely give you a workout, especially if your property is uneven: The strain of pushing the mower up and down hills will strengthen your leg and arm muscles. Operating a riding mower can also burn calories, but as you are sitting the whole time, it’s no substitute for an aerobic workout. For an average adult, 30 minutes of pushing a lawn mower burns between 135 and 185 calories. You get bonus points for using a non-powered mower, which burns an additional 30 to 40 calories every 30 minutes.

Related: The Best Things You Can Do for Your Lawn

Clean Out Gutters

If you’re finding it hard to motivate yourself to clean out the gutters, consider this: You can burn 150 to 222 calories in just 30 minutes! So this spring, don’t hire a professional. Instead, clean your gutters yourself, and you’ll be able to cross two things off your to-do list: home upkeep and your daily workout. Remember to exercise caution as well as your body by working with a partner who can stabilize your ladder and hand you necessary equipment. Also, consider installing gutter guards. These helpful screens prevent leaves from accumulating and will lighten your cleaning load next year.

Get Gardening

If you’re too busy to hit the gym, or if you need to unwind after a long day’s work, try exercising your green thumb. Gardening and yard work certainly burn calories (between 200 to 450 calories per hour, depending on intensity level and body weight). More importantly, though, working outdoors, with your hands in the soil, also confers mental health benefits. One meta-analysis found that “gardening can improve physical, psychological, and social health,” with positive effects for you and your community as well as your garden.

Wash and Vacuum the Car

Once the weather warms up, ditch the car wash and lather up by hand. Washing your car for 30 minutes can be a good workout, especially if you deep clean all the details, including the wheels, windshields, and the interior. A half hour of car washing can burn between 125 and 200 calories, depending on your weight and activity level. Get your kids involved for some fun, sudsy exercise—you’ll burn even more if you get into a friendly water fight.

Related: 15 Genius Tricks for Keeping Your Car Clean

Find a Clean-Out Buddy

Enlist a friend or partner to help you get your attic, garage, or basement in tip-top shape. The work will go faster, and you may get your body in shape as well. Research shows that working out with a buddy increases the amount of exercise we do, so teaming up with a friend may also make you more productive on these major cleaning-out projects. Just be careful: Hauling boxes up and down stairs is excellent cardio and weight-bearing exercise, but you don’t want to hurt yourself. Always lift from your knees, and don’t strain your back. If you have any preexisting conditions, or joint or muscle pain, limit your activity to gentle, lightweight organizing and tidying.

Spring Forward

A recent survey finds that three out of four Americans engage in spring cleaning, with women shouldering most of the work. Share the load and multiply the health benefits by involving your whole family in a spring cleaning challenge. Divvy up tasks according to age appropriateness and interest level, and give out prizes to keep everyone motivated. Plus, spring cleaning can be a real mood booster.


Cleanliness may be a virtue, but staying NEAT is what keeps us in shape. NEAT, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis, refers to the energy you burn while doing daily activities other than sleeping, eating, and exercise. Household chores certainly count, and the more you do, the higher your NEAT score. Research is finding that NEAT is a factor in maintaining a healthy weight and keeping trim and fit in the long run. Moreover, housework may also help keep your mind young and decrease the risk of dementia.