Do More Housework, Burn More Calories?



Your dishwasher is making you fat. Okay, maybe that's stretching it. But a new study on housework and calorie burning says that women are expending way less energy on household chores than we did decades ago–and that may be one reason why more of us are obese today.

The study looked at time-use diaries kept by women ages 19-64, dating from 1965 to 2010, and specifically looked at time spent preparing food (including cleaning up after meals), general cleaning, and laundry. While women burned 4,663 calories a week (666 calories a day) doing these household chores in 1965, by 2010 we dropped to 2,806 calories a week (400 calories a day).

What's going on? Researchers say that technological advances like microwaves and dishwashers have made housework less physically active.

(No word on whether men are partially responsible for the decline by doing more around the house, getting all the–ahem–advantages of the added calorie burning.)

They do know that screen time is picking up the slack–we spent twice as much time with screen-based media (TV, computers) in 2010 as in 1965, and in fact women today spend more time with our screens (meaning more time sitting) than on cooking, cleaning, and laundry combined.

The researchers speculate that swapping toilet cleaning for Twitter may be contributing to today's obesity epidemic.

Personally, I’d MUCH rather burn those extra 260 calories a day at the gym than scrubbing the floors. I also think it's significant that this study didn't track time spent on childcare–which for me, and many other moms I know, is way more time-intensive and energy-intensive than housework.

A few years ago another study found that women today spend more time on child care activities than in decades past. As in, a LOT more–21.2 hours a week for college-educated women in 2007, versus 12 hours a week on average before 1995.

How many more calories does all that additional diaper changing, piano-lesson shuttling, and Lego building burn? I'm guessing it's not an insignificant amount.

I just started logging my activity level with a pedometer, and I discovered that while I took about 7,000 steps on a busy work day, I took closer to 8,500 on a "quiet" weekend day at home with my kids–and believe me, there was very little housework getting done on either day.

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