Calories aren’t as important as they used to be. We need a certain amount to live, but the 1980s assumption of burning 2,000 calories to lose a pound is not that simple. Our sophisticated bodies constantly make adjustments for over-eating, being sedentary, and even working out too much.
That said, calorie burn can give a pretty good indication of the intensity of a particular type of exercise and will allow people to choose what best suits their needs for weight loss or weight maintenance.
Here’s a general rule of thumb for calculating calories burned for any activity:
- Gentle activity: Up to 3.4 calories per minute
- Moderate activity: From 3.5 to 7 calories per minute
- Vigorous activity: Over 7 calories per minute
If you’re using the Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale that would correlate to:
- Gentle Activity: 1 to 4
- Moderate activity: 5 to 7
- Vigorous Activity: 8 to 10
Let’s look at how that plays out in real world activities (all calorie counts are based on a 150-pound person, moving for 30 minutes unless otherwise noted):
Walking is either gentle or moderate, the faster your rate of speed, the more calories you’ll burn. A general estimate is one mile equals 100 calories, although there are many variations such as your weight, pace, walking inclines, etc. Calories: 120
Hiking usually involves rough terrain and steep inclines, sometimes even scaling rocks. Add a backpack full of supplies for even more calories and resistance training. Calories: 204
Running is usually vigorous unless you’re in very good shape. There is still a lot of variety in calorie range for the same reasons as walking. Running a 10-minute mile: 340
This popular weight-training program uses interval training and boot camp movements to cross-train the body for strength and general agility. Converts often brag about the buckets of sweat they’re producing. One study found that women burned 369 calories per 30-minute workout but didn’t mention weight.
Yoga is all over the map for calorie burn, the move gentle forms of yoga are in the lower calorie burn and styles such as Power Yoga burn in the upper moderate to lower vigorous range. Calories: ~150
A popular water sport with lots of upper bodywork, kayaking, will tone your arms and burn about 170 calories.
Standing on a floating surface definitely ups the calorie burn. A great full-body workout with extra emphasis on core and upper body, a casual SUP workout burns approximately 200 calories in 30 minutes. But if you’re racing on a SUP that number can easily double.
One of the best ways to estimate workout intensity is with a body tracker such as a FitBit, we recommend getting one to help chart your progress and your successes. So, while I don’t think calorie-burn is the be all, end all, I do think you can use that as a rule of thumb for how hard you want your workout to be. Do you think about the intensity level when you’re choosing a workout? Or do you just do what feels good? We’d love to hear your answers.
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