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London - As a Fifties housewife I would have been shunned in the street for my unscrubbed doorstep, dingy net curtains and tarnished door knockers.
Domesticity and I have never got on.
By sheer luck, I married a Domestic God - a man who was at his happiest cooking, cleaning and dishwasher-emptying.
But while I revelled in my freedom, lying on the sofa and happily munching my way through packets of biscuits as my husband whirled around me with the vacuum cleaner, this slovenliness took its toll on my figure.
While it seems I am not alone in this - research has revealed that women’s average waists have grown by six inches since the Fifties, partly because we do less housework now - I am determined to tackle what is literally a growing problem.
But could embracing housework really transform my figure?
The Fifties domestic bible Newnes Household Management claims it can.
Nestled between chapters on Keeping A Domestic Goat and Grow Your Own Smokes was what I needed: Housework For The Figure - written by the renowned BBC keep-fit expert of the time, Eileen Fowler.
“I have exercised all my life,” wrote Eileen.
“I don’t set aside certain hours for my exercises - they are always with me. Domestic duties involve a great deal of movement and by merging them with easy exercises, you can help your figure.”
Could I really get fit and have a clean house? When I spoke to personal trainer and body confidence performance coach Kim Ingleby, she assured me Eileen’s theories still hold good today. “Housework is brilliant exercise,” Kim enthused. “It uses all your muscles and burns loads of calories.”
So with Kim’s help, I devised the ultimate Fifties housewife’s workout.
For extra authenticity, I gathered some Fifties cleaning products recommended by eco-living expert Janey Lee Grace: lemons, bicarbonate of soda, white vinegar - and a lot of elbow grease.
With Garmin’s magic watch, which counts the calories you’re burning as you exercise, I set out to see if cleaning the house can really prove as good a workout as sweating it out in the gym.
SCRUBBING THE FLOOR
Get on your knees and pull in your core (tummy and buttocks) while stretching out with an old-fashioned scrubbing brush. Use both hands to scrub or alternate to work your weaker side. Scrubbing in a diagonal direction works the oblique abdominals (at the sides of the waist). Stretch regularly. For the post-scrub mop, keep the lower core muscles pulled in tight to prevent lower-back pain.
The task: I’m surprised at how much my chest muscles throb and I soon work up a sweat. Glancing at my watch, I’m astounded to see I’ve burned more than 200 calories. My pecs hurt, my arms ache and, alarmingly, my Marigolded hands keep forming involuntary claws.
RESULTS: I haven’t seen the floor this clean since the tiles were laid eight years ago
TIME: 77.5 minutes
CALORIES BURNED: 262
Adopt an upright position, hold in your tummy to support your back. Between each room do 20 squats (stand with feet hip-width apart, bend knees and lower your body, as if about to sit on a chair, before rising again) and ten lunges (from the same start position, ‘lunge’ forward with one leg, bending at the knee - so that the back knee almost touches the floor -before pushing back up to the start position). Change legs and repeat.
The task: Usually I’m focused entirely on not sucking up Lego bricks. Now, I’m too busy holding in my tummy and clenching my buttocks to notice. One bathroom, four bedrooms, one landing, and one set of stairs later, the squats and lunges have left my legs as wobbly as the new-born Bambi.
RESULTS: Carpets are spick, span and Lego-free
TIME: 43 minutes
CALORIES BURNED: 90
Good for toning arms, says Kim. Between each room do 15 press-ups (on your knees if necessary) and 15 tricep dips (sit on a hard chair, place hands by hips at the edge of the seat then move feet forwards so your bottom comes off the seat, dip your body, with arms taking the weight). When dusting, pull your midriff in as you reach high.
The task: Dusting is more tiring than it looks. I’m soon out of breath: just one set of press-ups and dips has my muscles screaming.
RESULTS: I shift so much dust that by the third set of press-ups I’m on my knees - sneezing
TIME: 38 minutes
CALORIES BURNED: 92
Polish hard for two minutes (switching arms) then stop and launch into 20 star jumps and a minute of running (or marching briskly) on the spot. Then resume polishing! This lifts your heart rate and boosts your metabolic rate.
The task: Armed with some of Janey’s home-made furniture polish (three parts distilled white vinegar, one part olive oil), plus a sports bra and trainers, I attack the dining room table and chairs then down dusters and throw myself into the repetitions. By the end, I’m red-faced, panting and bathed with sweat.
RESULTS: My furniture looks fantastic. I look a mess
TIME: 51 minutes
CALORIES BURNED: 105
Pull in your tummy to protect your lower back as you change bedding. Halfway through, run up and down the stairs five times (or walk) to boost your heart rate, burn fat and tone. Or just march or jog on the spot for two minutes.
The task: There’s only so much retro a girl can take, so no blankets or bedspreads. But clenching stomach muscles helps combat “duvet induced backache”.
RESULTS: One freshly changed bed, which looks so inviting
TIME: 12 minutes
Between each window/mirror, work stomach muscles with 20 crunches, ten side/oblique crunches (reaching to the opposite knee) and ten back alternates (lie flat on your front and raise the top half of body: keep head and neck relaxed and look down) to tone core muscles.
The task: A bucket of water, a slosh of vinegar and a scrunched up Daily Mail are my cleaning materials. I fit in one set of crunches between two sets of patio doors, one large kitchen window and four mirrors.
RESULTS: I’ve never seen my windows this clean
TIME: 52 minutes
KITCHEN WIPE DOWN
Use strong, circular movements, switching arms regularly. To boost your heart rate, throw in a few stair runs (see changing sheets).
The task: Smearing a paste of bicarbonate of soda, water and a drop of lemon essential oil over my grubby microwave and cooker, then rubbing like fury is far tougher than a quick squirt and wipe with a chemical spray. Next, it’s bicarb, water and elbow grease for the worktops and doors.
RESULTS: A gleaming kitchen smelling of lemons
TIME: 35 minutes
CALORIES BURNED: 214
Perform gluteal bridges half-way through (lie flat on back, with knees bent, and lift bottom into air so you are resting on your shoulders and soles of feet; pull in tummy and tighten buttocks. Relax upper body, keep knees in line with ankles and push up from buttocks).
The task: I scrub the ceramic sink with half a lemon and salt and am amazed at the results. Next, it’s the shower tiles with bicarb and a grouting brush, plus the bath and toilet - finish with a wiping of tea tree oil to get it really clean. When I squat to tackle the shower screen I can barely get up again.
TIME: 44 minutes
CALORIES BURNED: 84
The whole workout took five hours and 52 minutes, and burnt off 1,006 calories. As a result, my house is gleaming and I’m so exhausted I can’t keep my eyes open. Next morning, I can barely walk downstairs. And Kim is impressed, too.
My workout is, she calculates, (depending on height, weight, metabolic levels etc), the approximate equivalent of running for an hour at 8.3 miles per hour, two hours of fast swimming or two to three hours of basketball, football or tennis.
No wonder our grandmothers were so slim! Fit housewives of Fifties Britain, if I could raise my arm, I would salute you. - Daily Mail