Does your gym subscription cost the earth? Or are you worried your maid will not turn up? Try doing the housework; it's fitness for free, says Aparna Karthikeyan

Wouldn't you gladly sign up for a course that says ‘get fit for free'? I know I certainly would settle for anything that has the words ‘fit' and ‘free' in the same sentence. Having said that, I must confess I would've dithered as and when I found out that the said ‘free' course actually involved brandishing a big, fat broomstick, a mop and a pail brimming with dirty water…because, housework, in the past, never topped my list of ‘things to do before I die'. I suppose it comes from all the conditioning (to develop a dislike, bordering on hatred) for those repetitive, boring chores, and a life-long habit of conveniently outsourcing it to somebody else.

Burns calories

Now, why would I ever want to take it up? Because it saves money and burns up calories, that's why. Except the calorie-burning bit was the last thing on my mind when my affair with the dust cloth began. After days of coming up with marvellously original excuses for benignly neglecting the house, I was surprised, when one day, I couldn't see outside! Oh no, it wasn't the fog, it was the windows, so caked with a lethal combination of grease and dust. Just as I lay wondering (on the couch, with a good book and great fudge) what to do, my quirky, busy-body neighbour appeared, with a bucket full of warm, sudsy water, a soft sponge and squeezy blade. And in about 10 minutes, she efficiently restored visibility, gave me a little lec-dem on window-washing, and cooed encouragingly (“go on, it's really easy and so much fun”) when I awkwardly, slowly had a go…

If I said it was “love at first sight” there and then, I would be a huge liar. Because, I've always believed — and am sure Cinderella would agree — stepping out for a bracing walk, even if it's only on pavements decorated with dog-poo, is far nicer than scrubbing floors! Can cleaning the sink ever be half as grand as sashaying out to the gym in sparkly, sporty clothes and matching sneakers? There, that's the trouble with housework — it is neither glamorous nor refreshing; at best it's mildly cathartic, and at it's worst, smelly and incredibly sweaty.

But it was thanks to my persistent, especially house-proud neighbour that I finally got hooked. She led by example. Her clothes line was the cynosure of all eyes, the pinks, whites and darks merrily flapping in the wind; her counter-tops were painfully white, the skirting-boards always spotless. “I'm a good housewife,” she would say (even though she had a day job) whenever I asked her why she spent so much time vacuuming the curtains. “And I know it's none of my business,” she would add, “but if you hung your clothes out this way (she would point to her impeccable washing) they'll dry in no time and won't crease much!”

It works magic

Pride, not prejudice. And she was right. Learning to like the chores (love is too strong a word, shudder) and taking pride in it, actually took the sting out of it. Plus, slowly but surely, all the lunging, squatting, clenching and lifting began to work its magic on the jingly bits. Housework, I realised, quite pleasantly surprised, firms up as only exercise that repeatedly challenges a certain muscle group can. And while walking about with a heavy bin bag might not give you Mrs.Obama's gorgeous biceps, it will, at the very least, swiftly move you out from the wobbly-jelly-granny-arms category. And when you're done admiring the streak-free mirrors and your shapely calves, you can always flop on the dust-free sofa, and luxuriate in that satisfyingly delicious dull post-workout ache… tell me, which gym can compare with that?

MOP UP THE BENEFITS

* The road to fitness is paved with mops and washing-up liquid.

* You don't need a PhD to clean the bathroom; just a few ounces of strong bleach, a stiff brush and 100-odd calories.

* When lifting/scrubbing, do remember to alternate hands, or else, be ready for a lifetime of one-shouldered gowns!

* How do you find out which bits are getting exercised? Well, we could go deep into the anatomy of the musculature, but the easier method is simply mopping the entire house, bending down from the hips.

* Repeat this in the evening for good measure. The next morning, the parts that hurt most are usually the targeted area!

* Just be careful not to overdo it… if not (like I've overheard the family whispering) your next birthday present might just be fuchsia-pink Mobile Iron stand…

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