A study from the University of South Carolina published in the Public Library of Science (PLOS One) has caused an uproar because it seems to single out women and suggest they should increase the amount of housework they do in order to lose weight.
But the study isn’t really about housework at all; its about the effects of a sedentary lifestyle on weight gain, and by extension, on human health.
Remember those big clunker vacuum cleaners and the dust mops back in the 1960s? All that effort, regardless if it were a male or female, was apparently helping that person to stay thin.
Relying on activity logs in terms of time use, the study authors were able to determine that in today's society, women only average 25 hours a week of housework, down from 13 hours in 1965.
At the same time, women now allocate 25 percent more time to screen-based media use than they do to household chores, a huge discrepancy. It so happens that today’s women are also on average 22 pounds heavier than women in the 1960s.
It would seem reasonable to conclude that computer use is much more stimulating than physical chores, but it doesn’t burn the same kind of calories.
Previous studies have examined the health risks of too much sitting and not enough activity. An American Cancer Society study followed the health of 123,000 people between 1992 and 2006 and found the death rate for women who sat for more than six hours a day was about 40 percent higher.
Of course, the problem is hardly unique to women. A 2010 study from Australia, published in the journal Circulation, looked at 9,000 patients and found over six years or more for each hour of television a person watched the risk of dying rose by 11 percent.
So the answer isn’t simply to go to the gym every day, it’s also to be more active throughout the day. Whether you are a man or a woman, housework is one solution, but so is walking between activities and making sure you don't stay seated for prolonged periods of time.
There are new desk treadmills available; work stations that move at just 1 mile per hour and still help you burn more than 100 calories per hour. I think these represent a great option if you find yourself stuck at your desk for hours (but don’t mind standing).
Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up, as did Thomas Jefferson and Winston Churchill. And why not walk a little while you stand?
In the end, the issue isn’t about lack of housework, it's about lack of activity. The solution isn’t stereotypical or sexist or about having our women take care of us, its about more steady activity, no matter what kind.
Marc Siegel MD is a professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Medical Center. He is a medical analyst and reporter for Fox News since 2008. His upcoming book concerns a mysterious viral outbreak.