Labor Saved, Calories Lost: The Energetic Impact of Domestic Labor-saving Devices


Endocrine Research Unit, 5-194 Joseph, Mayo Clinic, 200 First Street, SW, Rochester, MN 55905. E-mail:


Objective: As the prevalence of obesity has increased, so has sedentariness. Progressive sedentariness has been attributed to greater use of labor saving devices, such as washing machines, and less nonexercise walking (e.g., walking to work). However, there is a paucity of data to support this conclusion. In this study, we address the hypothesis that domestic mechanization of daily tasks has resulted in less energy expenditure compared with performing the same tasks manually.

Research Methods and Procedures: Energy expenditure was measured in four groups of subjects (122 healthy adult men and women total) from Rochester, Minnesota. Energy expenditure was measured using indirect calorimetry while subjects performed structured tasks such as cleaning dishes and clothes, stair climbing, and work-associated transportation, and these values were compared with the respective mechanized activity.

Results: Energy expenditure was significantly greater and numerically substantial when daily domestic tasks were performed without the aid of machines or equipment (clothes washing: 45 ± 14 vs. 27 ± 9 kcal/d; dish washing: 80 ± 28 vs. 54 ± 19 kcal/d; transportation to work: 83 ± 17 vs. 25 ± 3 kcal/d; stair climbing: 11 ± 7 vs. 3 ± 1 kcal/d; p < 0.05). The combined impact of domestic mechanization was substantial and equaled 111 kcal/d.

Discussion: The magnitude of the energetic impact of the mechanized tasks we studied was sufficiently great to contribute to the positive energy balance associated with weight gain. Efforts focused on reversing sedentariness have the potential to impact obesity.