The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Put Activity Back into Life

Posted in
Move more

Monday, Jul 12, 2010

I was running up and down the street in front of my house one day because I had to stay close to home. A neighbor down the street was out washing his cars so every time I passed him we would exchange some quick words about this and that. During one of my passes he made the comment that he should be out running. I didn’t have time to respond but I thought about this comment for the next few minutes. He had been out washing his cars (as well as the neighbor’s) as long as I had been running and I think he actually was out there before I was. And he just wasn’t washing his cars; he was WASHING his cars.  When I passed him again, I pointed out this observation to him. I started reflecting on the fact that many people do not realize how important lifestyle physical activity is on our health. One of our recent blogs, “Physically Active with a Sedentary Lifestyle: Are You at Risk?” explored the effects of inactivity on cardiovascular death rates1. As a reminder death rates were highest in those who spent most of the day sitting even if they met their recommended physical activity requirements. So being active during the day provides protection different than structured exercise. And being more active during the day also yields higher calorie expenditure which helps with calorie balance. As I continued my run I thought about how many don’t realize that small activities throughout the day really do add up. Modern conveniences have taken much of the activity out of life and it is important for us to find ways to put it back like my neighbor washing his own car versus going to a automated drive-through service.  And unfortunately for many the perception about physical activity is that you have to be training for something. Yes, some structured exercise is important (and doesn’t have to entail training for something) but really the goal should be to decrease our sedentary behaviors and simply move more.

So how much do you know about the caloric expenditure of various activities? Let’s test your activity calorie knowledge. *all questions are assuming the person weighs 150 pounds (68.2 kg)

1. How many calories would a 150 pound person burn putting boxes away in the attic for 10 minutes?       a.     40 calories       b.     85  calories

2. Which burns more calories?       a.    washing dishes for 30 minutes       b.    walking the dog for 15 minutes

3. Which of the following activities would burn 270 calories if done for an hour by a 150 pound person?       a.    gardening       b.    washing a car   4. Which burns more calories?       a.    vacuuming for 20 minutes       b.    carrying an infant for 20 minutes

5. Taking the stairs burns how many more calories than standing in an elevator?       a.    about 3 times more       b.    about 6 times more

How did you do? Here are the answers. Question number one: 150 pound person would burn 85 calories putting boxes away in the attic for 10 minutes. The vertical challenge of climbing up a ladder with a weighted box is quite an intense activity. Question number two: washing dishes for 30 minutes (85 calories) will burn more calories than walking the dog for 15 (50 calories). Question number three: Gardening burns 270 calories in an hour while washing a car burns about 205 calories. And for many gardening brings enjoyment, although the same could be said about washing a car especially in my neighbor’s case! We should all strive to find activities that are fun for us. Question number four: Vacuuming and carrying an infant for 20 minutes both burn 80 calories. Question number five: Taking the stairs burns about 6 times more calories than riding in an elevator.

My challenge to you is to find ways to put activity back in your life. Oh and if you are curious as to how many calories those different activities will burn, check out this calorie calculator. It is based on the Compendium of Physical Activities which was developed to assess the intensity and energy expenditure of 605 physical activities2. The site will calculate caloric expenditure for 222 of the activities. For a complete listing, check out the Compendium of Physical Activities itself. Report back to us what you come up with. You may just be providing a great idea to another reader.

1 Katzmarzyk, P.T., Church, T.S., Craig, C.L., & Bouchard, C. (2009). Sitting time and Mortality from All Causes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer. MSSE, 41(5),998-1005.

2 Ainsworth, B.E., Haskell, W.L., Whitt, M.C. et al. (2000). Compendium of physical activities: an update of activity codes and MET intensities. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 32 (9 Suppl): S498-504.