Sneaky Exercise

You know those days when taking the stairs seems like it might as well be going to the gym? For years, I’ve secretly counted things like living in a third-floor walkup and carrying chubby babies all over town. What are those random little things you count as exercise? Emily’s illustration made me laugh.

This is part of a series with illustrator Emily McDowell, who asks us one pressing question every month, such as what are your pet peeves and what do you do when you’re home alone?

(Illustration by Emily McDowell for Cup of Jo)

  1. Haha! I completely agree with you on this list. Walking up stairs to and fro for some work and thinking that I have lost a lot. Changing duvet covers is really a task, changing a velvet bed sheet can make you breathe heavily. Ever had a one on one with a mouse? It can really make you sweat while shooing away a mouse from your home.

  2. I definitely count housecleaning as exercise, especially when I have to lug the vacuum upstairs. Scrubbing the tub enclosure definitely counts, what with all the stretching and bending. We have a 2 story house, and I am always going up and down the stairs.

  3. Cleaning, and walking around town doing errands!

  4. I’m a waitress in a busy country pub, I spend my entire day doing this run- disguised- as- a- walk. That. Is. Exercise. I tell ya!

  5. Trying to find anything in the numerous boxes under my Cal King bed. Good grief.

  6. I would like to add sucking in your tummy, wearing high heels (good for calf muscles!) and putting on Spanx!

  7. Running errands with two small kids, lifting them in and out of car seats. Kneading bread dough. Vacuuming the house. I feel like my life is a workout.

  8. I run a lot – from my responsibilities, that is. I’d like to think it counts =x

  9. I’m a server, and I have told myself for years that my job is exercise. While it’s certainly more active than some jobs, the lifestyle – random meal times, heavy late night drinking, etc. – more than makes up for all the running around and lifting. That’s why I do laundry. Laundry is exercise, right?

  10. Grinding coffee with a manual coffee grinder, for sure! Also: washing heavy baking dishes, and hanging out wet laundry to dry.

  11. This illustration made me laugh! Love this series!

  12. Yes to everyone saying carrying groceries! Especially if you live on the 5th floor of a walkup.

    Also: lugging 3 weeks of laundry to the laundromat.

    Thinking about jogging = mental exercise, right??

  13. Seriously LOL’d at the “eating difficult foods” – I definitely count anything related to my 35 lb. 3-year old as exercise (lifting, chasing, tickling, wrangling)

  14. Changing duvet covers – YES!!!!

  15. try getting a fitbit. you’ll be surprised how much you move running after kids vs sitting at your desk at work. my step counts tripled on the weekends when i was home with the kids!

  16. Breastfeeding!! Hundreds of calories burned without breaking a sweat? AND getting to snuggle the sweetest babe?! Yes, please!

  17. Some of these things actually do count towards our recommended daily exercise, like cleaning/housework!

    I also heard that doing calf raises while brushing your teeth, or waiting in line for coffee is actually legit.

  18. Ha. I ALWAYS count a trip to Costco as part of my exercise. Two kids fit in the cart and than ALL those groceries. Definite work out. Pushing close to 100 lbs is no joke.

  19. Putting on my winter boots. Instead of bending down or sitting down, i lift one leg up (exercise!)…balancing on the other (exercise!) and breathe (yoga!) while tying the laces. And then I think ‘switch sides’ – using exercise language also helps me feel legit. xo

  20. Oh, yes, changing duvet covers. And groceries! Definitely adding my voice to that one.

  21. Changing duvet covers is full on cardio!

  22. I always considered carrying a baby around as a workout, and now that he’s mobile, bending over to pick up toys is my new daily workout routine.

  23. Haha, there are some great comments here! I agree with duvet changing and doing lunges whilst vacuum cleaning :) Also, dinner duties such as potato mashing, egg whisking and gravy stirring!

  24. Waking up at 4:45 am to run 5 miles every weekday….oh, but my mom has some serious guns from carrying bags and bags of groceries into the house over many years! it all works!

  25. I take the stairs daily and it just feels right to skip gim after that! I’ts a 9th floor!

  26. Dancing around my kitchen while making dinner.

  27. I love this! My mom is a superstar at this–she works at Children’s Hospital in L.A. and always takes the stairs, even five floors up, and whenever we go somewhere she parks at the back of the lot. It kind of works for her, though–she’s tiny!

    Last year I worked as a high school teacher and I was moving around in front of my classes all day, and I also lived in a walkable city where I walked a mile to work, walked to yoga, walked to dinner, etc. Since we moved (and I stopped teaching) I’ve noticed I’ve put on a few…even though I’m still exercising, I didn’t realize how much that “sneaky exercise” was paying off!

  28. YES! They totally count. I mean, you’re burning calories right? It’s better than being sat on the sofa all day.

    When I’m really short on time I usually do HIIT exercises.

    L I F E + 1

  29. Oh my God, the duvet cover for sure! I hate changing them.

    How about putting a cat in a carrier when it doesn’t want to go?

  30. Picking up my kids, and also picking up AFTER them. Bending over 200 times a night to pick up all of the toys/mess has got to count for something, right?!

  31. Evening dance-a-thons with my 2-year-old!

  32. Changing duvet covers IS actually exercise. I burn more calories doing that than running. Also, I live in a third floor and avoiding the elevator is also exercise to me. And of course carrying bags full of groceries is better than gym!

    The only real exercise I do right now (I’m no longer going to the gym cause I got a surgery and I can’t do severe exercise as I was used to) is dancing like crazy (OK… like a b*tch) when I’m home alone. I’m counting the days till I could work out again (sadly, I get really tired now when doing “exercise”…)

  33. changing duvets!! that’s the worst :)

  34. Definitely used to count lugging around 50 pounds of textbooks on my back.

  35. The Taylor Swift dance parties I have in front of the mirror after three glasses of wine, and pacing around Target trying to decide what kind of new [sheets/nail polish/mouthwash/toilet paper] to buy.

    Oh, and coughing! I have a respiratory infection and my abs are lookin’ fiiine.

  36. LOL…but seriously, folks…I’ve been on Weight Watchers for a few years & yes, those things count (well, some of them) as activity points. I love to look at my WW app & see “low effort housework”, “carrying 1-24 pounds”, etc.


    Chubby babies (& cats/pups) count!

  37. SL says...

    This is totally my favorite emily post yet! opening those darn cans? spot on!

  38. Changing the duvet for sure! Also, hanky panky with my man.

  39. Vacuuming, mopping, walking the mall :)

  40. Driving a manual car during rush hour will give your calves an awesome workout.

  41. Shopping and walking all day in heels!

  42. Scrubbing the tub! If I’m sweating, it’s exercise.

  43. I second carrying chubby babies! I’m in much better shape now than before my daughter was born.

  44. Parking at the end of the parking lot so I have farther to walk. Feeling virtuous burns extra calories. :)

  45. Carrying a chubby baby all over NYC totally counts! Mine is 20 lbs and 10 months. It feels like a marathon when we need to run errands!

  46. Whenever we have morning sex, I like to think I started my day with a workout :)

  47. yes, changing duvet covers made me laugh out loud.

  48. Washing your hair, especially if it’s long. Tapping your feet impatiently while you’re waiting. :) -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey’s

  49. This is the best. Makes me feel so much better for counting the time I walk around window shopping as exercise.

  50. Yes to changing duvet covers haha! Also tried folding a fitted sheet the neat way the other day and definitely burned at least 100 calories

  51. Vacuuming and cleaning in general and carrying groceries to the car (doing a few curls while you’re at it!).

  52. Biting a donut. It’s sometimes exhausting, but totally worth it. :)