The numbers don't exactly make you want to leap out of your chair. 95 calories for a mile around the track; 300 calories for an hour of step aerobics.
Think about how much effort it takes to burn off a slice of pecan torte at 390 calories per serving, and that's without the whipped cream. Even a slice of bread has 90 or 100 calories.
Before you give up and concede defeat to all caloric temptations, take heart with this concept: constant motion.
You are diligent about your Monday, Wednesday, Friday workouts, and that's great. Keep it up. But remember, the human body was designed to move virtually every waking moment. Exercise shouldn't be confined to 45 minutes, three days a week.
"It is only in the 20th century that we have become completely inactive," says Phillip Clifford, professor of physiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin. "People used to burn off a lot more calories."
Clifford talks about the virtue of fighting fat one calorie at a time, over the course of a day. How much you burn depends on your weight, the intensity of what you do and the efficiency with which you do it.
Burn More Calories Every Day
You are doing yourself a favor every time you (calories are approximates):
- Take the stairs (5 to 7 calories a minute).
- Park at the far end of the lot (4 or 5 calories per minute of walking).
- Stand while talking on the phone (5 extra calories for a five-minute conversation).
- Carry your golf clubs instead of using a motorized vehicle (4 to 5 calories extra calories per minute).
- Walk around the office to gather your thoughts (3 calories per minute).
- Carry groceries in the store instead of using a cart (10 or 15 additional calories for 10 minutes, depending on the weight of the basket).
- Take stretch breaks (10 to 15 calories for five minutes)
- Stroll with your spouse around the block to discuss the week ahead, rather than sitting around the table (40 calories for a 10-minute walk).
- Dance to music while you are doing the dishes (15 minutes: 60 to 75 calories, depending on how vigorously you dance).
- Do high knee lifts while your clothes are spinning at the laundromat (half a calorie per lift).
Clifford says the calorie consumption for any one of these activities is trivial, a calorie here, two or three there. But they add up over the course of a day. You may have to climb 10 to 15 steps to burn off a single calorie. But if you never pass up an opportunity to take the stairs, it can add up to several pounds burned off per year.
"Instead of checking your e-mail for two minutes every hour at the office, you could walk around the room, and that would account for more than a pound of fat in the course of a year," says Clifford.
A believer in exercising with "varying intensity," Clifford says, go to the gym, because that revs up your metabolism for some time after the workout and creates high-burning muscle mass. But then think of the rest of the day, all the ways you can burn a few extra calories by taking a less sedentary approach.
The one-calorie-at-a-time fitness plan may seem challenging, but if you are in constant motion, you have time on your side.