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Choose the Right Workout/Activity for You

Updated on March 15, 2010

It doesn't take a study or a Ph.D. to tell you that being physically active is a key to long-term health.  Depending on your goals and your lifestyle, the definition of "physically active" can vary greatly. 

Because 3,500 calories equals about 1 pound of fat, you need to burn 3,500 calories more than you take in to lose 1 pound. So if you cut 500 calories from your diet (or burn that much extra through physical activity) each day, you'd lose about 1 pound a week (500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories).

Working with the assumption that the goal is to lose weight, let's explore the many ways a person can burn enough calories to lose one pound per week, which is about 25 pounds in six months (50 in a year!).  (The numbers below are for 1 hour of activity for someone weighing 160 pounds.  Specific calorie expenditures vary widely depending on the exercise, intensity level, and your individual situation.)

Something that is NOT taken into consideration is that added muscle burns calories.  So, as you become more physically active and you tone or add muscle, the number of calories burned throughout your day will increase.  Over time, with consistent activity, it becomes easier to lose and then maintain a healthy weight.

Walking the Dog

Remember, the goal is to burn 500 calories each day.

Calories burned -- 1 hour of activity


183 -- Walking a leisurely 2mph for 1 hour

246 -- Moderate pace 3 mph, walking the dog, or carrying 15 pounds

281 -- Very brisk pace 4.0 mph

422 -- 3 mph, uphill or on an inclined treadmill

563 -- Walking up stairs

As you can see, in order to lose one pound, you need to walk up stairs for nearly an hour every day.  That's just not realistic.  Every day?!  It's overwhelming, actually.

But if you're trying to lose weight, chances are you're also watching what you eat.  So, instead of eating that Snickers bar for the afternoon snack (271 calories) and a can of soda (150-180 calories), you do without or go with a healthy snack, reducing your calorie intake by approximately 450 calories.

So, now that hour-long walk where you just start to get out of breath (3 mph) combined with a healthy diet can actually cause you to lose 20-30 pounds in the next 4-5 months.

Only have a half-hour a day?

Only have 30 minutes of free time a day?  What activities can burn approximately 300 calories or more in 30 minutes:

282 -- Swimming laps, freestyle, light/moderate effort

282 -- Bicycling, 12-13.9mph, moderate effort

292 -- Basketball game

292 -- Jogging, 5 mph (12 minute mile)

292 -- Tennis, singles

300 -- Rowing, stationary, moderate effort

329 -- Stair treadmill

352 -- Racquetball, competitive

365 -- Rope jumping

365 -- Tae kwon do

390 -- Running, 6.7 mph (9 min mile)

390 -- Swimming, butterfly, general

457 -- Rollerblading

493 -- Running, 8 mph

563 -- Bicycling, >20mph, racing

563 -- Running, 10 mph (6 min mile)

Non-Exercise Activity

What about an hour of non-exercise activity, such as cleaning, mowing the lawn, or dancing?

1.6 -- Sitting at rest

67 -- Sleeping

76 -- Sitting / resting

76 -- Reading

76 -- Writing

83 -- Driving car

86 -- Standing

100 -- Laundry

100 -- Food shopping with cart

100 -- Kissing

115 -- Playing board games

163 -- Washing dishes

192 -- Push stroller with child

192 -- Cooking

192 -- Putting away Groceries

201 -- Playing Piano

217 -- Shopping

222 -- Cleaning house or garage

264 -- Dancing - Rock & Roll

268 -- Carrying an Infant

268 -- Carpentry/Workshop

277 -- Bowling

288 -- Coaching - team sports

288 -- Stretching

288 -- Raking lawn

307 -- Showering

326 -- Washing car

326 -- Badminton

326 -- Mopping

336 -- Sex, active

364 -- Painting House

370 -- Yardwork

374 -- Ashtanga yoga

393 -- Garden

420 -- Mowing lawn, push mower

422 -- Construction/Remodeling

468 -- Aerobic Dancing

576 -- House cleaning, vigorous

1110 -- Snow shoveling, heavy


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