Real Girl Lifestyle

Calories per exercise: Knowing what you burn

Posted on: June 27, 2010

You might not be shedding as many calories as you think.

Last summer, Time Magazine published a controversial article called, “Why exercise won’t make you thin.” Time seemed to share an outlook similar to Real Girl’s–weight loss can not be achieved via exercise alone. “The basic problem is that while it’s true that exercise burns calories and that you must burn calories to lose weight,” John Cloud wrote. “Exercise has another effect: it can stimulate hunger. That causes us to eat more, which in turn can negate the weight-loss benefits we just accrued. Exercise, in other words, isn’t necessarily helping us lose weight. It may even be making it harder.”

Real Girl is not telling you to avoid exercise. I’m an advanced step class girl myself, seeking out the city’s toughest, hardest step workouts once a week. I should workout more often–I know I should. It would be better for my cardiovascular health and bone density, and I’d have more muscle and flexibility. But I’m thin, and it’s not because I go to the gym like a mad woman. It’s because I know my calories in and my calories out.

We’ve already gone over calculating your Base Metabolic Rate, so you’ll know given your gender, age, and size how many calories you burn per day at rest. Now it’s time to add in your physical activities to get a truer sense of your calorie use per day. Here are two calorie counting tools to help you gauge the energy expenditure from your daily physical activity. This Calories Burned Estimator lists an extraordinary roster of activities. When you enter your weight, you can find out what you burn from doing everything from running or lifting weights to cooking or brushing your teeth to even sex and shopping. Less exhaustive might be the PoHealth Exercise & Activity Calculator, which still covers a remarkable range of physical activities. (I’ll include this one too, since it includes the general “martial arts.”) If you take your BMR and multiply it by 1.2, you can figure in most of the little activities in your day without obsessively checking the calorie estimators. But you definitely want to know what you are burning when you exercise. Like the Time article warns, you can very easily “treat” yourself for exercising by eating more than you burn, or you can overestimate what a tough workout has expended. Although exercise will increase your health and muscle, unless you eat fewer calories than you burn, it will not lead to weight loss.

Which leads us to some basic math. If you want to lose weight, eat fewer calories than the sum of your BMR + physical activity. If your BMR is 1350, say, and you exercise enough to burn 300 calories a day, then your daily calorie expenditure will be approximately (1350 x 1.2) + 300 = 1920 calories. One pound equals approximately 3,500 calories. So in that situation, if you eat 1,500 calories a day while continuing to exercise that much, you will lose 1 pound in approximately 8.33 days.

Real Girl’s secret to weight loss is really only that: Math, careful attention, and being realistic about what exercise can do for your waistline. Let those physical activity calorie estimators help you calculate what you need to do to lose weight while you’re getting fit.


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