In a Runner’s World magazine article, David Swain, Ph.D., Director of the Wellness Institute and Research Center for Old Dominion University breaks calories burned down this way, “you burn five calories for every liter of oxygen you consume.” Of course, most of us have no way of measuring the liters of oxygen consumed but the information is still useful. Swain helps us understand why we burn more calories walking than sitting and even more calories when running rather than walking. More strenuous activities consume more oxygen.


Whether your goal is to lose or maintain your current weight it is important to understand how your diet and activity level can support or derail your success. Everything we do uses calories but to lose weight we must consistently remove from our diets or burn off 3,500 more calories than usual. To maintain weight, calories in vs. calories expended should be roughly equal.

So how many calories must you burn or subtract to lose one pound? Again, 3,500 – it sounds like a lot but is very manageable if you break it down. For example, if you want to lose 1 pound in one week you must reduce caloric intake by at least 500 calories for 7 days (500 x 7 = 3,500). You can lose 2 pounds over 7 days by reducing daily caloric intake by 1,000 ( 1,000 x 7 = 7,000, which divided by 2 equals 3,500 the equivalent of two pounds worth of calories).


Calories Consumed

Start with looking at your regular dietary consumption. Read package labels and note portion sizes. If you currently consume 3,000 calories per day you can start by aiming to consume only 2,500. Simple changes can help you reach your goal. For example, choose water over soda, baked instead of fried foods or lemon wedges on your salad instead of heavy cream based dressing. You really can reduce calories without feeling deprived. Burn another 500 calories with daily exercise and you will be well on your way to losing weight.


Sample Calories Burned

Say you are just sitting around watching television.  No, that isn’t really a workout but you will burn some calories; about 80 of them per hour if you aren’t doing anything else. If your pet comes along and you play while you sit you can burn as many as 140 calories (assuming you are about 130 lbs) or 170 calories if you are about 150 lbs.

Why the difference? Larger bodies and bodies with more muscle burn more calories, regardless of the activity. The same is generally true for men. Because they often have more muscle (and less body fat) than women they burn more calories even when you control for weight and age. It is also worth noting that as we all age and muscle decreases calories are burned less efficiently.


According to estimates calculated using the Daily Energy Expenditure calculator, a 150lb person can expect to burn:

171 calories per hour of tooth brushing

180 calories per hour of cooking

252 calories per hour of carrying a baby

369 calories per hour of gardening

918 calories per hour of running 8mph

63 calories per hour of sleeping

144 calories per hour of driving

207 calories per hour of bowling

360 calories per hour of gutter cleaning

405 calories per hour of dancing

747 calories per hour of full court basketball

477 calories per hour of hot yoga

774 calories per hour of elliptical use


Burn More Calories

Obviously exercise helps you burn more calories than restricting your food intake alone. Add another tool to your weight loss arsenal with strength training. Since we know that calories are burned more efficiently in bodies with more muscle, it just makes sense to set your body up to succeed with weight training.

What about Metabolism?

According to the Mayo Clinic food intake and activity level are the strongest predictive factors in determining weight gain or loss. In short, that means it is far less useful to blame metabolism than it is to blame diet and exercise habits for weight gain.