Dr. Kim Foster: Wicked Health


Why You Should Neglect The Housework

...for real.

Staying healthy as a mom is so important. We all know this, yes? It’s about strapping on our own oxygen masks first, right? Okay…but how many of us really do this? And how many of us, in fact, put ourselves dead last?

And what's the healthy habit we neglect the most? Exercise. What’s the most commonly cited reason? Say it with me: not enough time.

And I so get that. I feel the crush of time poverty. Every. Freaking. Day.

But here’s an idea that might free up a little time: cut back on housework.

Now—if, like many of us, you happen to possess a clinical aversion to your vacuum cleaner, you might be cheering me on, here. But if you’re a bit more of a germaphobe…you might be freaking out at this suggestion.

Hear me out.

For many moms, it’s easier to let our health slide than to let our household slide. The thing is, it’s a point of pride to keep a pristine home. But what about a pristine body? Well, that can be swept under the rug. Your heart, for example, is handily tucked away from view behind your ribcage. Nobody—least of all you—can see the gunk gathering there. Not like you can see the gunk gathering on your kitchen countertops.

Keeping a healthy lifestyle frequently comes down to time management. Exercise takes time; planning and preparing healthy meals takes time; getting sufficient sleep takes time. But there are only so many hours in the day, and you have to choose your priorities.

I once took my son to a classmate’s house for a playdate. The boy’s mother was lovely…but she showed me, proudly, the wall of Lego bins the she kept organized by colour. I’m talking one bin filled with blue pieces of various sizes and shapes, one bin filled with white pieces…

The Type A in me was dazzled by the sheer depth of this degree of organization. The more rational part of me could only think: do you know what I could accomplish with that sort of time?

If your kids understood what was at stake, what would they want you to do? Wash the sheets again? Dust the blinds again? Or have a mom who is healthier, lives longer, is around to see the birth of her grandchildren?

But here’s where it gets interesting…housecleaning has an impact on health, too. I mean, doesn’t it? Don’t we need to keep our houses spic and span to keep all those icky germs away?

Well, let’s dig into that a little.

Beyond a certain basic level of cleanliness—the kind required to minimize transmission of infection in the home—many experts feel it’s possible to go overboard with cleaning. Too-clean environments, as kids are growing up, may contribute to the increased incidence of allergies and asthma. This theory is often referred to as the “hygiene hypothesis.” The idea: we need to be exposed to germs and infection to build a healthy immune system.

And there’s a bunch of research to back this up, too.

One study showed that kids who attended daycare (read: exposed to many more germs) were 35 % less likely to develop asthma and allergies than those kids who stayed at home.

Farm studies are particularly interesting. Growing up on a farm—where plenty of exposure to animals, dirt and germs means that a messy childhood is par for the course—appears to build a healthy immune system. Kids who grow up on farms have much less asthma and allergies. There may even be a benefit in utero: one study found that children born to mothers who lived on farms while pregnant were significantly less likely to develop asthma and allergies.

Of course, I can’t deny there’s a psychological benefit to having a tidy home environment. A clutter-free house is soothing, that’s for sure. But I think you have to weigh the time cost. Is it better to organize the linen close or spend that time centering yourself in a yoga class? (Where you reap other health benefits, too.)

I’m not saying you let the house entirely go to pot. When it comes to getting the basic housecleaning done, there are lots of good ways to do it. Ways to slip it in, get it done as you go. Or, you could turn it into a workout, then you’re really multitasking.

But overall, I say nix all that extra, unnecessary housework. Use that time for a better purpose. And don’t feel guilty. Because guilt, darlings, is a very unhealthy emotion.

Basically, this is me, letting you off the hook. And my official prescription: choose a pilates class over cleaning behind the fridge. Your house may not sparkle, but your body will thank you, your future self will thank you, and your kids will thank you.

Okay, um, they may not actually thank you (do they ever?)…but that’s another story.