Staying fit doesn’t require squeezing into spandex and sweating in a gym. Exercise researchers say that simple lifestyle activities—such as washing your car or vacuuming—can be as beneficial as gym-based workouts. Indeed, one 1999 study of 40 obese middle-aged women found that women who engaged in moderate-intensity lifestyle activities not only lost the same amount of weight as women who took aerobics classes, but they were better able to keep the weight off one year later. Other improvements, such as lowered blood pressure and cholesterol levels, were comparable between the two groups.
The trick, experts say, is to seek out opportunities for physical activity throughout your day, and to accumulate at least 30 minutes of activity daily. Our checklist of lifestyle activities below—with tips inspired by the researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research in Dallas, and Oregon State University in Corvallis—shows you how easy that can be.
40 Easy Calorie Burners
1. Don’t use drive-thrus. At the bank or the dry cleaners, always park and walk in.
2. Use a cordless phone and get up and move around during calls.
3. While waiting for a flight, walk around the airport instead of heading for the nearest restaurant.
4. Iron or knit while you watch TV.
5. At the office, deliver messages and papers personally instead of using email or interoffice mail.
6. Cut your grass twice a week, and use a push mower. (You’ll do the environment a favor, too. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that gas-powered mowers are responsible for up to one-fifth of the nation’s air pollution.)
7. When you are watching TV, take commercial breaks as a cue to get up and do something: change the linens on the bed, fold some clothes, or mop the floor.
8. At the mall, park your car in a far-off spot to increase your walk.
9. When entering office buildings, always push or pull the door open instead of using the automatic door.
10. Throw away the TV remote control. Get up to change channels.
11. Better yet, throw away the TV.
12. Stand up while riding the train or bus. Standing burns more calories than sitting.
13. Walk up and down every aisle at the grocery store even if you don’t need anything in some aisles.
14. Baby-sit a toddler or play hide-and-seek with your kids.
15. Donate your leaf blower to a charity and start raking your leaves the old-fashioned way. Your neighbors will appreciate the quiet.
16. Hang laundry outside to dry.
17. Use the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.
18. Go to the bathroom on a different floor than you are on.
19. Get off the bus or train a few stops early and walk the rest of the way to your destination.
20. Take a water cooler break. Once an hour, get up to refill your water cup. (You need at least eight cups of fluid each day to keep hydrated.) Set a digital watch alarm if you’re prone to forget.
21. Vacuum the house more often. (And don’t forget to do the stairs.)
22. Walk to out-of-the-way lunch spots instead of always frequenting the corner deli.
23. Plant and tend an organic vegetable garden.
24. Go dancing or bowling with your friends and family, instead of to the movies.
25. Don’t drive up to the supermarket—carry your groceries to your parked car.
26. Instead of riding on moving airport walkways, walk alongside them.
27. Chop or mix food by hand instead of using labor-saving devices such as mixers or food processors. Use a hand-cranked can opener instead of an electric one.
28. Ride your bike to work if the distance is manageable.
29. Next time you’re standing in line, practice tightening and then releasing your stomach and butt muscles.
30. Wash dishes by hand instead of loading the dishwasher.
31. Set a goal of walking 10 flights of stairs in one week. Increase your goal each week.
32. Fidget. A 1999 study found that people with nervous habits, such as toe-tapping or finger-drumming, burn more calories than those who sit still.
33. Go for a five-minute walk around the block when others take a cigarette break.
34. Have more sex.
35. Wash your car. Then wax it. Your arms will get a great workout.
36. Invest in an exercise bike and pedal while watching TV or reading a book.
37. When grocery shopping, carry your purchases in a basket rather than a cart. The hand-held basket will give your arms a workout and may lead you to buy only the items you really need and want.
38. Make your bed every day.
39. Chew more sugarless gum. A 1999 study showed that it actually burns 11 calories an hour.
40. Shovel snow as it falls, going out every couple of hours. Don’t wait for the last flakes to settle. You’ll be lifting less at a time and exercising more.