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June Cleaver, Fitness Guru? The Surprising Truth About Moms and Activity Levels

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Karla P. Shelnutt, Ph.D., RD, LD/N, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida, and Linda B. Bobroff, Ph.D., RD, LD/N, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida

If you’re one of today’s busy mothers, whether you work outside the home or care for children full-time, you probably sometimes feel overwhelmed by the many responsibilities you shoulder. I certainly do!

Still, consider how many helpful conveniences we have on hand now to help get things done. Dishwashers, washers and dryers, and the wide variety of prepared foods available to us today probably would have seemed like amazing luxuries just a few generations ago. We’ve also relaxed our standards a bit—after all, how many of us still iron the tablecloths, bake our own rolls, or dust daily? All in all, women today spend substantially less time on cooking and household chores than they once did–although research shows that women still shoulder substantially more of this burden than men.

Most of us probably would agree that we’re happy we’re no longer expected to scrub the floors daily on hands and knees! However, an interesting study in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings suggests that some of these changes might not be such a great thing for our health. The researchers used data from a decades-long study that looked at how mothers spent their time. Using daily time-use diaries, they calculated mothers’ average active and sedentary time, looking at data collected over the past 45 years. Activities like cooking, cleaning, taking care of children, and sports and exercise were counted as active, while watching television, playing computer or video games, and spending time in the car were counted as sedentary.

As the years went by from 1965 to 2010, both working mothers and stay-at-home moms began to spend less and less time being active and more and more time on sedentary activities. In fact, over these 45 years, the average amount of time mothers spend being physically active has decreased by about 12 hours a week. The main reason for these changes is that moms now spend less time on housework and cooking, and more time driving the car and in front of television and computer screens.

Mothers set an important example for their children, so it seems to me that we as a group need to do a better job of finding ways to stay on our feet. We also need to show our sons and daughters that being active is fun. I definitely don’t advocate going back to the days of sheet and handkerchief ironing! However, active yard chores like gardening or raking can be enjoyable when shared with kids. Other household tasks like washing windows or the car or painting allow for some light activity while crossing some jobs off the to-do list. And of course, there are plenty of other fun ways to exercise and spend time together as a family way without involving chores. Being physically active on a daily basis is crucial to our health, and to that of our children and grandchildren.

(Photo credit: 1952-icing-cake by James Vaughan. CC BY 2.0.)


Archer, E., et al. (2013). Maternal inactivity: 45-year trends in mothers’ use of time. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 88(12), 1368-1377.