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Work is a Workout and Calories Count

After nearly two decades out of favor in the popular culture, two old principles of fitness are making their way back.

In the forties and fifties, mothers said, “I get plenty of exercise keeping up with the kids.” Dads said, “I exercise; my job is physical work.” Then came gyms, equipment, trainers, and pain for gain, and the new rule was: “It doesn’t count unless it’s a formalized workout.” Pretty soon low-fat was all the rage and popular thought was: “Forget calories. Just cut the fat.”

Most family physicians never abandoned the idea that one’s daily labor could constitute valid activity, depending on what the labor is; and few ever disregarded the importance of the calorie. But recently these concepts began working their way out of the scholarly papers into the mainstream media.

In fact, keeping up with kids all day is more effective exercise than a ten-minute run because low-intensity, long-duration activity sustains an elevated heart rate longer, expends more total calories, and flexes and stretches more muscles. Increasingly, experts are favoring sustained activity over frenetic workouts for general maintenance of health.

How much workout you put into your work is something you have considerable control over. Keep moving, even while standing. Stretch, flex, lift, carry, push, pull, and resist. It’s easy to devise movements that employ all the muscle groups.

The number of calories you burn while performing Task X varies widely from moment to moment and from person to person. It depends on your weight, age, fitness level, and metabolism; on the physical surroundings, terrain, and temperature; on the equipment, duration, and intensity you work out with; on the effects and interactions of the foods you eat and the medications you take. Any “calorie chart” is only a set of ballpark estimates, but it is a good standard of comparison.

The figures shown indicate the average number of calories burned by a 150-pound adult male per one hour of sustained activity.
THE WORKING PERSON’S CALORIE COUNTER
Bed making     135
Carpentry     240
Cooking, food preparation     125
Digging: pick and shovel     585
Digging: dirt/sand/soil     540
Dishes, kitchen clean-up     150
Dusting     160
Floors: heavy scrub, wax     350
Floors: mop, sweep     240
Gardening: dig and hoe     460
Gardening: plant and weed     300
Housework: general chores     180
Ironing     120
Jogging, 4.5 – 5 mph     375
Laundry: machine     170
Mowing grass, footpower mower     400
Mowing grass, non-riding power mower     250
Office work in general     140
Painting: with ladder     315
Resting: doing nothing     70
Raking leaves or grass     270
Running, 5.5 mph     588
Sex (fooling around)     90
Sex (real thing)     270
Shopping: filling cart     175
Shopping: lifting, carrying heavy loads     300
Shoveling: sand/gravel/wet snow     939
Shoveling: sawdust/manure/light snow     544
Sleeping     72
Vacuuming     175
Walking, stroll with kids     150
Walking Workout, 4.5 – 5 mph     498
Washing, polishing car     225
Window washing     250
Wood: chopping with axe     360

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