Household Chores to Build Functional Fitness

  • Laundry Toss: It's all in the spin—of your hips—and it will turn the mundane task of laundry into exercise for your abdominal, low back and hip muscles. Stand about 10 to 15 feet away from the washing machine. Stand with the dirty laundry basket at about waist height on your left side and the washing machine on your right. Pick up pieces of the dirty, dry laundry and, while turning at the hips, pitch the laundry into the open washer. After you've mastered this, move on to pitching wet laundry—which is heavier—from the washer into the dryer. If your washer and dryer are side by side, move 10 to 15 feet back to pitch the wet clothes into the dryer.
  • Unload and Lift: Daily dishes are a great opportunity to stretch side and back muscles. As you take dishes out of the dishwasher, turn your body from side to side, allowing your hips to turn so that your torso twists while you reach to put the clean dishes away on high and low shelves. To make the most of this stretching exercise, put the dishes and silverware away one at a time. And remember, the further the distance between your dishwasher and cupboards and drawers, the more exercise you will get.
  • Rake and Twist: This movement works whether you're raking leaves or sweeping the floor. The key is to take long, steady strokes, turning at your hips and raking or sweeping toward your body. Done this way, your arms don't have to do all the work. Make sure you do this exercise sweeping both from left to right and from right to left.
  • Standing Side Stretch: If you want to make the most of stretching exercises, add a little weight. Every household contains common objects—a carton of milk, a bag of garbage or a briefcase—that can serve as weights. Hold a weighted object in either hand while standing up straight with your feet slightly more than a shoulder's width apart, then slowly bend at the waist straight to the side, lowering the hand with the weight down your side as far as it will go. Hold it there and count to 15 or 20 and slowly return to standing up straight. Then put the object in the opposite hand and repeat the stretch in the other direction. As you get more limber, increase the weight of the object you choose and stand with your feet closer together, which will increase the stretch.

PM&R physicians, also called physiatrists, are medical doctors with special expertise in diagnosing and treating a variety of acute and chronic pain conditions. Physiatrists rely on non-surgical treatments, routinely prescribing therapeutic exercises to treat a number of musculoskeletal conditions such as lower back pain, arthritis, workplace injuries and osteoporosis.

Exercises provided by Joel Press, M.D., physiatrist, Center for Spine, Sports & Occupational Rehabilitation, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

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