11 Calorie-Burning Activities That Don't Feel Like Exercise
You don't have to sign up for a gym membership to get a "workout" every day.
There are an overwhelming number of choices when it comes to working out, from low-intensity options, like yoga or pilates, to more intense alternatives, like running or an Orangetheory class. But no matter what you choose, it takes time to work out—and if you already don't enjoy exercise, keeping it up is that much more challenging. Does that sound like you? If so, rest assured that experts say there are plenty of calorie-burning activities you can do that don't feel like exercise at all.
"Being active doesn't always have to occur on a machine, in a gym, or even be something you intentionally plan and structure," Rachel MacPherson, Certified Strength and Conditional Specialist (CSCS), CPT, and author at Garage Gym Reviews, says. "Especially if you are trying to move your body more or are just getting into being more active, adding natural, productive activity into your day makes a massive difference to your health and well-being."
MacPherson, who is also a women's health coach and pain-free performance specialist, notes that improving your health includes increasing your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE)—and to do so, you don't have to join ClassPass or whip out those old workout DVDs.
"Luckily, several ways to increase your TDEE do not entail a structured workout routine," she says.
If you're looking for different options for exercise, read on for 11 activities you can do—or may already be doing—to up your daily calorie burn.
Believe it or not, one of your favorite hobbies can actually help you achieve your fitness goals.
"Gardening is not only a way to stay active, it's also a gratifying hobby that is therapeutic and de-stressing," MacPherson says. "Depending on the gardening you do, you can get a fantastic workout while improving the appearance of your yard and enjoying a fruitful pastime."
MacPherson notes squatting, lifting, carrying, and working with your arms are all involved with gardening—and can build muscular endurance while upping your heart rate.
Cleaning the house
Housekeeping is a part of daily life—whether you like it or not. But did you know that it can also burn some extra calories?
"Cleaning your home is one of the most productive ways to get active," MacPherson says. "Finding time for chores is challenging, especially if you work full-time or have kids. Tasks such as sweeping, vacuuming, mopping, clearing clutter, organizing, washing windows, and scrubbing surfaces are all ways you can be active while accomplishing your to-do list."
Like gardening, this is going to get your heart rate up, meaning you can count it as cardio to increase your TDEE.
"Many of the movements you perform while cleaning build functional strength and stability," MacPherson adds. "You work in all planes of motion, bracing your core to twist, turn, lift, and squat."
Playing with your dog
Who doesn't love spending some time with a four-legged friend? If you have a dog at home, playing with them can help burn off some of their energy, while also helping you burn calories.
Gina Newton, CPT and holistic body coach, specifically recommends a game of tug of war, which can be great core work.
"When you're doing this, keep your feet hip distance width apart with a slight bend in your knees," she explains. "While playing tug, keep your core as sturdy as possible, [and] you will really feel this in your obliques and lower abs."
If your dog isn't interested in tug of war, you can also take them on a walk, Newton says.
"Get yourself the fresh air … and connect to the ground with each step—exercise and mindfulness!" she adds.
During the fall, raking leaves is often seen as a bit of a chore, but if you shift your perspective, it can also be your workout for the day. According to Newton, the same goes for shoveling and sweeping.
"If you keep your form, you can really work up a sweat with shoveling for sure," she says.
Playing with your kids or grandkids
If you have kids or grandkids, you know that they typically have a lot of energy to expend every day. So, if you treat quality time with them as your workout, you'll be doing yourself and the kiddos a favor.
"Fitting in family time is another one of those seemingly impossible tasks on busy days, but it's so rewarding and fulfilling," MacPherson says. "Plus, play is crucial for mental health and increases bonding while easing stress, depression, and anxiety symptoms."
She suggests running around in a local park, playing a game of tag, or challenging the kids to a race "for some excellent cardio."
"If you want more structured fitness during this time, you can do sprints, perform pull-ups from monkey bars, or create an obstacle course with exercises at each station," MacPherson says.
Walking or biking as transportation
Both walking and biking are great forms of exercise, but if you're doing them solely as a way to work out, it can start to feel like just that: work. With that in mind, MacPherson suggests incorporating them into your daily life another way.
"Walking and biking for transportation has been studied extensively and contributes significantly to people's health and well-being," she explains. "Instead of facing traffic and potentially increasing your stress levels, try getting outdoors, so long as it's safe to do so, and use your own body to take you from point A to point B."
This doesn't have to be limited to your commute to work, either.
"You can walk or bike to do errands, travel to visit friends, or go to appointments," MacPherson shares. "Walking is the type of exercise I recommend the most to my clients because it's accessible and enjoyable, easy to recover from, and [easy to] implement into their daily routine. Plus, it improves heart, lung, joint, metabolic, and mental health."
Another "workout" you can get without leaving the home is power washing: Not only will your home look and feel better, but you will, too!
According to Josh York, CPT, founder and CEO of GYMGUYZ, pressure washing "works your core, triceps, and shoulders."
Don't have a power washer or plans to invest in one any time soon? Painting with a roller can have similar effects, York says, working both your shoulders and triceps.
One of the most fun ways to "work out" without feeling like you're doing so is by turning on your favorite music and dancing.
"Dancing is a fun, social activity that improves balance and coordination (motor control), two aspects of fitness that are crucial for aging adults," MacPherson says. "Falls are among the most common yet devastating risks that grow as you age and are the biggest culprit of fractures that lead to loss of independence and declining health."
Rachel Lovitt, CPT and holistic movement coach, notes that dance fitness classes are also great ways to get moving—and even though you're going to a class, it's not going to feel like work if you enjoy it.
"Dance is great for cardio, coordination, and balance. Focusing on the movements/choreography allows you to forget that you're exercising, especially if you love music!" Lovitt says. "Zumba is a very popular dance fitness class that gets your heart rate up and gets your hips moving! Adult dance classes are becoming more and more popular so if you've ever wanted to try ballet or hip hop or tap dance, there's never been a better time."
Lovitt also suggests ballroom dance "if you'd be more comfortable in a 1:1 setting," but notes it "would not be the most accessible choice financially."
Mowing the lawn
There are so many things you can do at home that get your heart rate up, including mowing the lawn. Even if you're not under the hot summer sun, you're still moving your body—and pushing some heavy machinery.
According to Newton, depending on the size and shape of your lawn, you might have your work cut out for you, as it will involve "a lot of walking/leg work."
In fact, according to Harvard Health Publishing, depending on how much you weigh and whether you're using a power or a reel mower, you can burn anywhere from 135 to 231 calories in just 30 minutes of mowing.
Who doesn't love an excuse to get some retail therapy? Shopping is another way you can get active and burn calories, as you're getting your steps in just by walking through stores and shopping centers. Even better, you're often carrying bags or pushing a heavy shopping cart at the same time.
Speaking to this, according to Harvard Health Publishing, food shopping with a cart for 30 minutes will burn between 85 and 126 calories.
Last on this list of activities that don't feel like exercise is swimming. MacPherson concedes that swimming can be "intentional exercise," but points out that it can also be something you just do for fun (with the calorie-burning aspect as a nice bonus).
"Swimming can improve cardiovascular health, cholesterol levels, flexibility, endurance, blood pressure, resting heart rate, and reduce body fat when done vigorously enough," she explains. "To make it fun, try performing races with your kids, playing water polo or monkey in the middle with a ball, or water tag."
Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.
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