6 Everyday Activities That Help Build Muscle

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Finding time for exercise can be challenging. Fortunately, many of the everyday activities you do—like carrying the laundry up and down stairs—can contribute to your physical activity goals. And because 25% of American adults are not exercising at all, moving around more at home is a good alternative.

If hitting the gym or making that 6 p.m. spin class just is not in the cards today, one of these six everyday activities is sure to count as your workout. Here are some ways to use everyday activities to build muscle and stay active.

Benefits for Building Strength

Here's why building strength is good for your body:

  • Improves cardiovascular health
  • Promotes bone development
  • Reduces lower back pain associated with arthritis and fibromyalgia
  • Improves insulin sensitivity and reduces risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Reduces resting blood pressure
  • Reduces low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Increases high-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol
  • Reduces and reverses aging factors in skeletal muscle
  • Improves mood and reduces depression
  • Improves physical performance, walking function, cognitive performance, and self-esteem

Walk or Bike to Work

As long as your house is a reasonable distance from your office, walking or biking to work is an excellent opportunity to do something for your health. Plus, you don't have to live in the concrete jungle to change up your commute—anyone can do it—even people living in the suburbs can take advantage of sunny weather and bike lanes.

There also are a number of health benefits to walking or biking to work. For instance it improves mood, promotes stress relief, contributes to a healthy body weight, and improves cardiovascular health. But when it comes to building muscle, most people don't consider walking or cycling as a way to build it because they are low-impact activities. Turns out it is an effective way to build strength.

One study compared the advantages of cycle training in both young adults and older adults on muscle and strength gains. Researchers found that strength gains were achieved in both groups. That said, gaining muscle was more likely on a high protein diet. Another study concluded the same results regardless of protein intake.

Work in the Garden

Some people find gardening to be relaxing, while others simply enjoy the fruits of their labor. If you have yet to roll up your sleeves, you may want to soon because the health benefits of gardening include working your muscles.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes general gardening as moderate-intensity exercise. But if you are doing heavy gardening with continuous digging or hoeing, the CDC considers that vigorous physical activity. Plus, just 30 minutes of gardening can burn anywhere from 165 to 220 calories, so there is no question it counts as a workout.

And because gardening is comprised of body weight movements, carrying or moving dirt and plants, digging, raking, and the like, it makes for an excellent total body, weight-bearing workout. In the winter, shoveling snow counts as an intense workout. Take advantage of getting stuck inside on a snow day. Start the day by shoveling the drive or walkway and burn a few extra calories as well as give your muscles a workout.

Take the Stairs

If you don't have stairs in your house or climb them regularly, it is easy to forget how challenging they can be. Taking the stairs wherever possible is a great way to add in a bit of exercise without interrupting your day.

And if you take part of your lunch break in the stairwell, climbing the stairs instead of going out to lunch, you are looking at around 162 calories for 30 minutes of climbing stairs. Additionally, you will benefit from the leg strength improvements and cardiovascular benefits associated with stair climbing. Even just 10 minutes of stair climbing is enough to activate your leg muscles.

Try this interval workout: Do 10 seconds of stair sprints (climbing as fast as you can) followed by 20 seconds of easy climbing. Repeat this until you reach 10 minutes.

Clean Your House

Cleaning and home repair tasks are one of the best things you can do for your body, mind, and stress levels. Plus, they can account for 20% of your weekly activity goals. The more intense housework you are doing, the greater effects on muscle strength and calories burned.

Pushing a vacuum, mopping the floor, and even dusting will help build core strength. The act of moving something heavy back and forth or overhead (as in a duster) targets the abdominals and activates the leg muscles.

Carrying loads of laundry or heavy items to other areas of your home can provide a solid leg workout and build strength in your upper body and shoulders. And, lifting things over your head to put them away will help strengthen and shape your shoulders and arms.

Cleaning the windows and scrubbing other surfaces engages the core; and if you're standing on your tippy-toes to reach up high, your calf muscles are activated too. Meanwhile, moving or pushing heavy furniture can be equivalent to pushing a weighted sled at the gym. Or, carrying heavy groceries up the stairs may be much like doing step-ups with kettlebells in each hand.

Moderate Activity Household Tasks

If you are looking for ways to use house cleaning as a workout, here is a list of moderate activity household tasks as provided by the CDC.

  • Scrubbing the floor or bathtub while on hands and knees
  • Hanging laundry on a clothesline
  • Sweeping a floor outdoors
  • Cleaning out the garage
  • Packing or unpacking boxes
  • Walking and putting household items away
  • Carrying out heavy bags of trash or recyclables
  • Carrying water or firewood
  • Mopping the floors
  • Putting away or carrying light groceries
  • Hand-washing and waxing a car

Make a Meal

Cooking your own food is better for your body than simply providing nourishment. It's also an excellent way to burn extra calories, promote bone health, and increase muscle size and strength. It doesn't end there, continue the workout after dinner by washing the dishes and then loading the dishwasher.

Heavy cooking ware like cast iron skillets, dutch ovens, pizza stones, or turkey roasting pans provide an upper body workout by targeting your shoulders, arms, and core. Lifting them from a lower position to standing emulates the squat movement and can help strengthen your legs and butt.

When you are ready to transfer your meal from the heavy pot to a serving dish, holding the pot (carefully, so you don't get burned) while you empty the contents is quite challenging, You will notice your core, arms, and shoulders working hard to make it happen and building strength at the same time.

Play With Your Kids or Grandkids

If you are a parent (or even an aunt, uncle, or grandparent) you can absolutely understand the effort it takes to play with children, let alone take care of them—it can be exhausting! And for good reason.

Playing with your kids is considered a moderate to vigorous form of physical activity. Depending on the kind of playing you are doing, you could be burning major calories and building muscle at the same time.

The best thing about kids is that physical activity feels like fun to them. Instead of creating an obstacle course for them, give it a try yourself, too. Or load the little ones up in a stroller and try jogging. You also can do a park workout together, or while they play on the equipment.

Try this: Challenge your kids to an obstacle course race. Include 10 jumping jacks, frog jumps to the end of the yard, 10 ball slams with an outdoor ball or exercise ball, 10 squats, then race to the finish line. You won't even know you are exercising you will be having so much fun.

A Word From Verywell

Strength training provides several health benefits including improvements in cardiovascular health, weight management, and prevention of chronic health conditions like type 2 diabetes. Although most people opt for a regular exercise routine, don't forget that everyday activities are a great way to build muscle when a workout isn't possible.

Whether you are generally pretty active or just getting started, nourishing your body with proper nutrition and hydration is also important. Remember to talk to a healthcare provider, personal trainer, and registered dietitian before beginning any new diet and exercise routine. They can help you come up with a program that works best for you and your lifestyle.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you know if you are building muscle?

    Sometimes the number on the scale isn't a good representation of muscle gain. However, if your strength increases you can guarantee your muscle has too. Other ways to know if you're building muscle include changes in measurements, your clothes fit different, and you can begin to see your muscles better.

  • How quickly do muscles grow?

    Muscle growth happens over the course of weeks or even months, and only after consistent training takes place. A goal of 0.5 pounds of muscle gain per week is realistic.

  • How is strength measured?

    In research, muscle strength is often measured using the Medical Research Council Manual Muscle Testing scale. Other measures of testing include hand-grip dynamometry, and the functional assessment of strength. In the gym, people often try to measure their strength by attempting to reach their one rep max (1 RM).

18 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Shoshana Pritzker RD, CDN, CSSD, CISSN
Shoshana Pritzker RD, CDN is a sports and pediatric dietitian, the owner of Nutrition by Shoshana, and is the author of "Carb Cycling for Weight Loss." Shoshana received her B.S in dietetics and nutrition from Florida International University. She's been writing and creating content in the health, nutrition, and fitness space for over 15 years and is regularly featured in Oxygen Magazine, JennyCraig.com, and more.