House or apartment – which is best for fitness?

If you live in a house, it’s much easier to keep fit. Here are 11 reasons why?

File this under “Things the COVID-19 pandemic taught me.”

One of the defining attributes of the pandemic has been weight gain. In fact, 61% of US adults experienced undesired weight change in the first year of the pandemic. Most of that was weight gain.

Some of the loss might be because so many people got sick. Some might have been due to stress.

Most of the weight gain was likely due to one of two factors. First, eating more, partly due to stress and partly due to being around food more in confinement. Second, less physical activity while in confinement.

I am willing to bet that apartment dwellers bear a disproportionate share of the weight gain. That’s because it’s easier to keep fit in a house than an apartment. In confinement, therefore, house dwellers are more likely to keep fit.

HOus or apartment - which one is best for fitness?

Why it’s easier to keep fit in a house

Let’s start with the obvious. To put it simply, one is more confined in an apartment than in a house. With the exception of tiny houses and monster apartments, houses are just bigger.

So, house dwellers have on average nearly twice as much space to move in as apartment dwellers have. Of course, there might be more people living in the houses, so it’s a little more complicated.

Indeed, it gets more complicated. More space means longer distances to walk. Each time you get off the couch to go to the washroom, you take more steps. Each time you got to the fridge to get a snack. Each time to move from one place in your home to the other, you will take more steps on average in a house than in an apartment.

Housecleaning keeps you fitter than apartment cleaning. Just washing, sweeping, vacuuming and dusting take twice the work in the average house than in the average apartment. There are just more surfaces to clean in a house. Twice the floor space, twice the wall surfaces, twice the furniture to keep clean, twice the bathroom space, larger counters, and much more than twice the windows.

Houses come with land, and taking care of the land can keep a person fit. Mowing, shoveling snow, weeding, raking and gardening all burn calories. Apartments have no outside to care for.

Apartments also have little maintenance. No furnace to check on. No plumbing to take care of. No electricals. These are all taken care of by the landlord. Although they might call in a plumber or electrician from time to time, house owners have to take care of maintenance and repairs themselves.

House dwellers go beyond repairs and maintenance. There always seems to be things to build or upgrade in a house. Not so in an apartment. Most apartment dwellers don’t even own a toolbox, let alone power tools. A hammer, plyers and a multi-bit screwdriver might be all the tools they own.

Here’s a big difference. Many houses have staircases, and climbing stairs is good exercise. I can’t find statistics, but I assume about half of houses have staircases. I go up and down my stairs on average a dozen times per day. That’s 4,380 flights of stirs per year. Talk about incidental calorie burning!

Even many one-story houses have some stairs. For example, high ranch bungalows and split levels have some stairs. And most houses have two or three steps at the front door or coming in from the garage.

And then there are basements. But not everywhere. Only 42% of U.S. houses have basements, which means that 58% don’t. Still, that is almost half of houses have basement stairs, which means that almost half of house dwellers go down occasionally or often for recreation, to get things from storage or to contemplate their furnace or hot water tank or circuit breakers. I go down on average once a day, although there might be weeks when I don’t go down and days when I go down many times (like for Christmas or Halloween decorations, or to switch clothes at the changes of seasons).

Possibly the most subtle difference between apartments and houses is that it’s easy to go outside from a house. Just open the door, and step into the yard, front or back. That might not be a very long walk, but already the house expands from twice the size of an apartment to three or four times the size.

And outside extends beyond the yard. Going for a longer walk is almost instantaneous. Consider the steps to take in an apartment just to leave the building:

  1. Get dressed.
  2. Grab keys.
  3. Lock door.
  4. Walk to elevator.
  5. Push button.
  6. Wait
  7. Get in elevator.
  8. Push button.
  9. Wait
  10. Walk to door.
  11. Push through door.
  12. Push through second door.

It just seems like so much work to go anywhere that one does it only when planning a major trip.

In a house, one might not even get dressed to go into one’s back yard. And to walk across the street to be neighborly – even at a social distance – one might not even grab one’s keys, never mind lock the door.

And so it is that I lost weight during the pandemic. No more sitting for hours in a car commuting. Instead, that time went to more gardening. And working from home means it’s easy to pace around outside while on the phone, something one cannot do in an office tower. Or in an apartment (It’s a long way down if you absent-mindedly do.).

There’s another hidden “bonus” connection between fitness and dwelling type. When you move more, you reduce stress. When you are surrounded by nature, which is more likely in a house, you are less stressed. When you are less confined, you feel less stressed. Living in a house is less stressful.

When you are less stressed, you are less likely to eat more than you need. So, not only are you more likely to keep fit in a house, you are also less likely to overeat.

Everything I’ve written here is about averages. Some people in apartments keep very fit. Some people go for extended walks twice a day, or go cycling every evening. Some people don’t waste time with elevators when it’s so much healthier to use the stairs.

And some house-dwellers don’t climb back up the basement stairs from their gaming until their bladder is begging for mercy or threatening to explode.

But on average, there is simply more space to move, both inside and outside a house than in an apartment. There are more surfaces to clean and much, much more to take care of. So keeping fit without even trying is much easier in a house than in an apartment.

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