May 212010

Susan Dawson-Cook finishing the La Jolla Shores 5KIf you’re like most of us, you want to maximize the number of calories burned during each and every workout. That way, sampling a thick slice of chocolate cake at your neighbor’s luncheon or sharing a bottle of wine with your spouse at dinner won’t lead to guilt or extra weight around the mid-section. But how many calories do you really burn when you swim, run or lean on that weight machine and chat with your friends (if you do the latter, we need to talk)?

The number of calories you burn depends on the type of activity in which you are engaged, your weight and how vigorously you engage in a given activity.

First, the bad news. If you weigh 200 pounds, you will burn more calories than a 150 pound individual during any given activity, even though both of you are doing the same amount of work. Yes, ladies—it’s an unpleasant fact of life that you can’t eat as many calories as your spouses without paying the piper.

The good news is that you burn more calories when you work harder, so you can make up for the calories you’re not burning by being female by exerting more or engaging in a more challenging activity. For example, if you walk at a 3 mile-per-hour pace, you will burn only 210 calories per hour, but if you step it up to a 4 mile- per-hour pace, you will burn 318 calories instead.* To increase calorie consumption even further, you could walk longer than an hour, faster or engage in a more vigorous activity, such as running.

Running receives the highest accolades when it comes to calorie consumption. According to the Fitness Partner Connection website (, a 140 pound individual will burn 572 calories per hour running an 11.5 minute mile and 891 calories running a 7 minute mile. Swimming (up to 700 calories/hour), jumping rope (636 calories/hour), the stair step machine (572 calories/hour), stationary rowing (540 calories/hour) and bicycling (up to 636 calories/hour) are other big calorie burners that are less traumatic on the body than running.*

Calories are most efficiently burned by performing continuous exercise for a long duration, such as running, swimming, cycling or walking. With running or walking, you can use miles per hour to calibrate calories burned. Fitness classes such as step aerobics, low impact aerobics, water aerobics and dance can also qualify as good calorie burning activities, but it is harder to estimate caloric expenditure during these activities since the amount of effort participants put into classes varies dramatically.

When you take a class, the number of calories burned is dependent on how quickly you are moving, how many risers are under your step, how much arm and leg motion is occurring with each step. So try to make the most of each class, focusing on each movement to maximize caloric expenditure within limits comfortable for your fitness level.

In addition to regular workouts, you can maximize calorie consumption throughout the day by merely choosing anything that involves motion over idle activities. Instead of watching TV, opt for pulling weeds in the back yard. Instead of dropping into a chair at a party, stand up and mingle.

Unless you have unusually high metabolism, exercise is not a carte blanche to head for the all-you-can-eat buffet table. In reality, the 500 calories most of us burn during an hour workout won’t allow for much extra food on the plate. However, if diet stays constant as activity is increased, this daily deficit of 500 calories can have a huge impact on weight over time. Burning an extra 500 calories per day (a 3500 calorie deficit is required to lose one pound) can lead to a loss of one pound in a week, four pounds in a month or a whopping 48 pounds a year!

As we age, maintaining a healthy weight or losing unwanted pounds becomes more challenging, but being overweight doesn’t have to be a foregone conclusion if a proper balance of exercise and healthy diet is established.

* Calorie consumption examples are from and are based on a 140 pound individual.

May 142010

You would think that someone drinking a diet soda would tend to watch his or her weight and eat light. Unfortunately, many people drink diet sodas while consuming amounts of high calorie food. What is it about certain situations that trick people into eating more than necessary? Its something that food companies count on, that American desire to eat big portions. Take for example those foods labeled “light,” “low calorie” or “healthy.” You go through that package faster than a “normal” package of food and then you have to buy another one sooner, right?

Studies have repeatedly shown that people tend to eat larger quantities of foods they perceive to be healthy and/or low in calories than those without a similar label. This, in fact, could lead to someone having two bowls of “light” ice cream instead of one small bowl of regular ice cream or a half dozen “low fat” cookies instead of three regular ones. When you look at total calories, a large quantity of any item, healthy or not, is likely to tip the scales in the wrong direction. This is NOT healthy for you.

Make it your goal to not fall prey to that voice in your head saying “its healthy so go ahead and have as much as you want.” Send the food company executives running into the boardrooms, scratching their heads and wondering why people are taking so long to get back to the store.

Limit your consumption of any food item to one serving, rather than allowing yourself a carte blanche to eat as much as you want just because the food is supposed to be healthy. Then it will be your wallet, not your waistline that will be expanding.