The housework diet

Trying to lose weight? Now we know you can scour away those excess pounds.

That's right, cleaning your house counts as exercise. Depending on how hard you work, standard chores like laundry and mopping can burn up to 250 calories an hour, according to a recent article I read somewhere.

(It doesn't matter which article. These days, every magazine and newspaper and website is glutted with advice about diet and exercise. Everywhere you look, ominous ads and articles blare that we're being killed by our own waistlines.)

Whether you buy into the obesity panic or not, 250 calories an hour is nothing to sneeze at. I know from my expensive Dreadmill, which has more electronic readouts than the space shuttle, that it takes me about 40 minutes to burn that many calories if I keep a steady pace, walking to nowhere. Turns out, I could've saved my money and simply scrubbed stuff for exercise. I'd be just as fat, I mean fit, as I am now, and my house would be cleaner besides.

The article encouraged readers to find ways to squeeze more exercise into their housework. For instance, use time while you're waiting for the microwave or the coffeemaker to do stretches. If you have a two-story home, alternate activities between upstairs and downstairs so you get a free Stairmaster routine between chores. Sweep instead of vacuuming. Chop veggies with a knife rather than using a food processor, the article said, or do dishes by hand rather than in the dishwasher.

Those last suggestions made me say, "Whoa." The only way chopping veggies will help you lose weight is if you cut off a few fingers. And I'll do dishes in the sink when they pry my dishwasher from my cold, dead hands.

But, mostly, I like the idea of house-cleaning as workout routine, and I've dreamed up more exercises you can use to shed those unwanted pounds:

--Grout Stretch. Try scrubbing the bathroom grout after you've dressed for the day. You'll be forced to s-t-r-e-t-c-h across tubs and shower stalls so your clothes won't get wet and gunky. Keeping yourself suspended on toes and fingertips, while one free hand scrubs like crazy, burns more calories than Marine push-ups.

--Kitchen Race. If you have teen-agers in the house, try to supply food faster than they can eat it. You can cook, serve and load the dishwasher all at the same time, trying to keep up, but their appetites still will win.

--Toilet Bowl Bulimia. The more disgusting the toilet bowl you're cleaning, the more likely that you'll lose your lunch. Works best in households where boys reside.

--Television Scavenger Hunt. You can walk for miles, trying to find the remote control, all while bending and stooping and getting that heart rate up, up, up. Cursing can be aerobic, too.

--Rearranging Furniture. Moving heavy sofas and chairs is a good workout, and can help your home attain a "new look." Also, you'll be forced to clean the floor where the furniture formerly sat because it's covered with dust bunnies, loose change and escaped M&M's. Caution: Eating the old M&M's negates the calorie-burning effect.

--Stubbed-Toe Dance. A night-time event that frequently follows Rearranging Furniture.

--Climbing the Walls. Another exercise most common in homes equipped with teen-agers. Remove cobwebs while you're up there.

So, get cleaning and get fit, America. A sparkling home and a slimmer you awaits.

If that's not incentive enough, try rewarding your efforts with M&M's. Look under the couch.

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