A woman dances while she does the housework

Starting and sticking with an exercise routine – Southern Cross offers handy hints

Tuesday , 17 January 2023 by Nicole Gray

The start of the new year is a time when many of us collate long lists of ways to ‘improve’ our lives. In addition to getting fit, resolution regulars include saving – not spending – money, learning a new skill, or spending more time with our loved ones.

It’s well known that top of the list every year is the resolution to implement a new fitness regime. However, despite declarations of dedication to our new routines, slipping back into usual work and home life schedules can see our fitness lists languishing.

Southern Cross’ Healthy Futures Report reveals that the average New Zealander is exercising for 30 minutes three times a week. That means a lot of us are doing less than that , and many people worry that they aren’t as fit as they should be. Thirty per cent are considering moving more often (an increase of three per cent since 2020) and 36 per cent are planning to prioritise exercise – an increase of four per cent since 2020.

To get ahead of the resolution regression, Southern Cross Health Insurance’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Stephen Child offers handy hints to help go the distance.

“It’s great to see an increase in people planning to move more, and January is an ideal time. However, after the slow pace of the holiday period it can feel particularly challenging to dive straight into a new plan and the first step is overcoming that struggle to get started, particularly if you’re setting your sights on an ‘idealised’ sense of what counts as exercise.”

Dr Child says that plenty of activities qualify as exercise, each with their own benefits. “It can be tempting to default to pounding the pavements or slogging it out in the free weights section at the gym, but walking, housework, going to the supermarket, mowing the lawn and weeding the garden all count as exercise,” he says. “A good exercise plan starts with the aim of incorporating some physical activity into most days of the week.”

Dr Child says that most New Zealanders are aware that regular exercise plays an important role in our overall health and wellbeing. “People generally know that regular exercise reduces our risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease, such as heart attacks and strokes, but it's actually good for the whole body, and our mental health ,” he says.

“It helps us to maintain muscle mass and strong bones, which is very important as we get older. Exercise also increases blood flow to the brain, boosts levels of ‘feel good’ chemicals called endorphins and helps with memory function,” he adds.

“Once you’ve made a start you can increase the frequency and intensity of your exercise and, with it, your overall health and wellbeing,” Child says.

Energetic housework – it's a thing

The 2022 Healthy Futures Report also asked New Zealanders what types of activities they do to help them get enough exercise. Interestingly, energetic housework is the most common form of exercise, with 39 per cent of people keeping fit this way.

Grab that duster and feel the burn!

Trying to squeeze a workout into our day can often feel a step too far what with work, family, and never-ending chores. But good news! Housework can be an effective way of keeping fit and burning a few calories. So, slap on the sweatbands and try the energetic housework workout.

Take the vacuum for a spin

Pushing the vacuum cleaner around your floors helps work your legs, core, and upper body (and even more so if you decide to throw in a few squats or lunges as you vacuum). Thirty minutes of vacuuming can burn up to 166 calories1, so be sure to give all your floors and skirting boards a good once-over.

Wash up the dishes

Next, tackle the kitchen. Washing dishes by hand and clearing the counters can burn close to 160 calories2 - depending on how big the mountain of dishes is and the size of your kitchen, of course!

Take the workout outside

Gardening is also a great form of exercise. Mowing the lawns for half an hour can burn up to 200 calories3. Grab the rake and spend another 30 minutes raking up leaves and lawn clippings and you can burn through another 178 calories4.

Next, give the car a wash by hand. Scrubbing your vehicle can burn another 200 calories over 30 minutes5.

Getting started and sticking to an exercise routine

Here are some top tips to help you get motivated – and stay motivated:

Start slow

Jumping straight into vigorous exercise can do more harm than good, so take things slowly at first. If you plan on taking up running, start with a walk, then progress to a light jog before picking up the pace.

Variety helps

Try not to get stuck in too much of a routine straight away. Listen to what your body is telling you. Whatever you choose, try to change things up – that way it won’t feel like a chore and you’re less likely to become bored.

Enlist a buddy

Still lacking motivation? Make plans with a friend to head out and exercise together. That way you’ll feel obliged to honour your commitment. If you have a dog to exercise too, that could be all the motivation you need for staying active on a regular basis.

Make it a habit

It can take a while to form a healthy habit, but the rewards are well worth it. And the more often you take the healthy choice, the easier it will get.

Stay safe

Don’t overdo things, especially when you’re just getting back into the groove. For most of us, starting an exercise programme is fine to do without medical consultation. But if you haven’t exercised for a while, are over 50, or have a medical condition such as heart disease or diabetes, make sure you talk to your GP or another qualified healthcare expert.


  1. WebMD
  2. Calorie Control Council
  3. Harvard Health Publishing
  4. WebMD