Exercise and Weight Loss

We all know exercise is important to being fit and losing weight, but to what degree? Can exercise make up for bad eating choices? For example, say you decide to eat a Big Mac with cheese (Calories 704) fries (380) and a chocolate shake (423). That’s 1507 calories. Ignoring the fact that it’s 75% of the calories most people should eat in a day, and 150% of the saturated fats you should eat (some people would say it’s a lot more than 150%), how much jogging would a 240 pound guy have to do to burn that off? The answer–about two hours at a fast clip. Yikes, no wonder we’re all getting so fat.

Let’s look at it another way. How much exercise do I need to do to lose 1 pound of weight? Pretty simple, we know that 3,500 calories equals about 1 pound (0.45 kilogram) of fat, so you need to burn 3,500 calories more than you take in to lose 1 pound. So if you keep eating as you have been, and increase your exercise enough to burn 3500 calories you’ll lose a pound a week.

Obviously you could also cut 500 calories from your diet each day to lose about 1 pound a week (500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories).

But right here is where we start fooling ourselves and get into trouble. People say “I’m an active person, but I keep gaining weight, it must just be genetic”. It’s much more likely that the activites you are doing are not as intense as you believe, and you’re simply eating too much of the wrong foods. It’s the nature of the activities you do that determines how many calories they burn, and some activities that you would assume would burn a lot of calories, actually burn very few.

When you’re sitting around, doing office work, driving your car, or reading this article on your computer, you burn about 90 to 150 calories per hour, depending on your weight and muscle/fat ratio with 90 being a 120 pound person, 150 being a 250 pound person. The difference between the sitting around burn rate of 150 calories and the activity burn rate is what you are counting on to burn off that Big Mac meal. Let’s say you’re going take your 240 pound butt for a brisk walk. Great, that’s 414 calories per hour. But it’s the difference in calories that matters, so subtract the 150 you burn while sitting around and you’re down to 264 calories per hour. That’s 5.6 hours of walking to neutralize the Big Mac.

If you’re going to try to use exercise to lose weight you need to burn 3500 calories more calories to lose a pound a week? That’s 13 hours of walking briskly. The walking you already do doesn’t count–that’s built into what you weigh now.

We’re not saying you can’t compensate for eating a lot of food by increasing exercise–elite athletes do that all the time. But it takes a very large amount of vigorous activity. The best way to lose weight and stay or get fit is to both eat better and get exercise. And pick some activities that dial up the burn rate.

This chart shows approximate calories burned while doing various exercises for one hour three different body sizes. For most exercises, the heavier you are, the more calories you burn, but some sports minimize that difference. Specific calorie expenditures vary widely depending on the exercise, intensity level and your individual metabolism and muscle/fat ratio.

So obviously you’re not going to walk, golf, bowl, or ballroom dance your way to fitness. All those activities are fun, but they don’t present much opportunity for weight loss or fitness. Weightlifting is not very aerobic either, unless you work hard to make it so, but resistance training builds muscle and muscle consumes calories. For a more complete chart of calories burned during various activities click here

Unless you are regularly doing one of the strenuous activities listed, you can’t really count on your activities to keep you fit. You might wish to believe that surfing three times a week will keep you toned and slim, but look around. Lots of fat surfers. Surfing burns about the same amount of calories as playing golf with a cart or slow ballroom dancing. Lots of sitting around, and you rarely use your big leg muscles, it’s mostly arms and core. Worse yet, the exercise you get from surfing is very unbalanced. You see plenty of old surfers with humped backs.

Standup Paddle Surfing is too new to have an accurate calorie burn rate calculated, but it’s obviously more than surfing, especially flatwater or cruising. It’s probably in the range of Kayaking, though it engages the leg and core muscles more, and so is probably higher.

If you want to get fit and stay fit, you need to either adopt one of the high calorie burn activities and do it regularly, or add some form of workout to your routine.