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2007-03-14
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Daily Calories Burned

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It should be no surprise that the terms American and fitness are becoming increasingly difficult to use in the same sentence. More than 4 million Americans are already considered "extremely-obese." Obesity differs from simply being overweight; obesity is linked to excessive fat stores. The description is no longer confined to just adults as obesity is increasingly afflicting American children as well.

As I am no longer in the Army, and therefore not being held to a fitness standard, I began pondering just how much energy my body was burning per day. Was my newfound career in corporate America leading me down an irreversible path? To determine this, I wore a heart rate monitor for the duration of my work day. The monitor features a calorie burn computer based upon the wearer's age, weight, BMI and fitness level. (NOTES: Items in italics represent the activities I share with a sedentary person. "Cooling" refers to additional calories burned until my post-activity heart rate returned to a 110 bpm reference.)

  • 100 calories burned per hour sitting in a chair "working"
  • 5 calories burned riding an elevator up twenty-seven flights
  • 100 calories burned per hour watching TV or surfing the Internet at home
  • 750 calories burned for eight hours of sleeping (according to the Fitwatch Calculator)
  • 220 calories burned in twenty minutes walking 11/4 miles downhill to my bus (+50 calories burned "cooling")
  • 60 calories burned walking one New York City block (west-east) (+10 calories "cooling")
  • 25 calories burned walking up five flights of stairs (+35 calories burned "cooling")
  • 315 calories burned walking 11/4 miles uphill from my bus (+75 calories burned "cooling")
  • 150 calories burned walking a dog for twenty minutes (Note: It was a slow walk, the dog is very old.)
  • 660 calories burned in forty minutes of weightlifting
  • >900 calories burned in fifty minutes on an elliptical trainer

The results generally confirm the obvious - that physical mobility equates to energy burn and sedentary activity does not. It was surprising, however, to realize how even small amounts of activity could have such large gains in overall calorie consumption. If I were to eliminate walking to my bus, never use the stairs and skip days at the gym, my personal calorie burn would quickly dwindle into a deficit.

A typical, non-active person will essentially burn slightly more than 1500 calories during their waking day simply by sitting at work, walking short distances to and from their car and watching TV. Going to and from the parking lot and garage are barely enough to raise the heart rate to a baseline 110bpm for more than a few moments, hardly constituting real physical activity. Therefore, it's not surprising that Americans have grown enormous; we barely move and yet still eat three large (often unhealthy) meals a day plus an assortment of snacks and soft drinks. This results in a massive calorie surplus beyond the energy requirements a person needs for healthy living.


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