Login | September 18, 2021

Comparing calorie burning––tough question, easy answer

Pete’s World

Published: July 19, 2021

This week’s column is the result of a question posed to my girlfriend during a stubborn case of writer’s block…what fitness related subject interests you? Without hesitation she immediately suggested that she’d like to know what summertime exercise provides the most burn for the buck. Now initially I was cynical, poo-pooing the idea because of the simple answer.
Then after a little consideration I realized that Judy was challenging me more with the content of her question rather than with the answer itself.
Thus, I’ll end this column with the simple answer, but start it with an explanation of why hers is such an interesting question.
And as usual, my data comes from bonafide scientific sources which means no Facebook sources, no mobile phone news feeds, no second and third party “my friend told me so” sources and no blog-spot sources.
So first and foremost know that the more you weigh, the more calories you burn during an exercise.
Let’s use a car analogy here: Take a pick-up truck and a compact two-door. Both vehicles are able to drive the same distance yet each will use a different volume of gas because of their physical characteristics.
We each possess a unique combination of physical characteristics, and therefore we each require a different amount of fuel to complete identical activities. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, there are actually a whole host of variables that affect the calorie burning process.
Age. Older individuals posses lower metabolic rates due to losses of muscle tissue, that in addition to hormonal and neurological changes means less calories burned. 
Gender. Men typically possess greater muscle mass, and therefore have a higher metabolic rate than women.
Muscle mass. Muscle requires three times more energy to function than fat. Thus, more muscular individuals burn more calories than less muscular individuals. 
Genetics. Big factor. We’re all different so we burn calories differently.
Health status. This can create fluctuations in one’s metabolic rate.
Level of vitamins/nutrients. Some vitamins and nutrients can either boost or slow one’s metabolism.
Then we have a couple of key external factors to consider.
Environment conditions - temps and dew points.
Physiological adaptations. Our bodies can adapt to exercise activities such that a well conditioned individual needs less energy to do the same task as a less conditioned individual.
So based on the above understand that you’re not going to get truly accurate information from one of those quickie online caloric burn calculators because you have to consider all these variables. And quite honestly, I don’t know of any app that can do this. Proper caloric burn rates are done in lab settings. So we’re left with simple generic answers when comparing the caloric burn of one activity compared to another.
Okay, now to the simple answer - via generic comparisons - in order to answer Judy’s complex question. I’ve gleaned this material from a Harvard Health Publishing article curtesy of the Harvard Medical School’s online educational archive. The article, “Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights,” was published on March 8, 2021 and can be found at https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/calories-burned-in-30-minutes-of-leisure-and-routine-activities.
Out of the myriad of activities listed in this piece, I picked 10 popular summertime activities, all of which list a half hour’s worth of caloric burn for body weights of 125, 155, and 185-pound individuals respectively. Note also that this data is gender neutral.
• Walking 17-minute miles: 107, 133, 159
• Walking 15-minute miles: 135, 175, 189
• White Water Rafting/Kayaking: 150, 180,210
• Backcountry Hiking: 170, 216, 252
• Vigorous Weight Lifting: 180, 216, 252
• Swimming moderately: 180, 216, 252
• High Impact Aerobics: 210, 252, 294
• Rock Climbing: 226, 281, 335
• Vigorous Calisthenics: 240, 306, 336
• Running 10-minute miles: 295, 360, 420
• Biking 14-16 mph: 300, 360, 420
• Swimming vigorous laps: 300, 360, 420
• Biking 16-19 mph: 360, 432, 504
• Running 8-minute miles: 375, 450, 525
• Running 6-minute miles: 453, 562, 671
• Biking 20+ mph: 495, 594, 693
As you can see, for a question that involves a host of complex variables, we can indeed find an answer that is––dare I say simple––so for Judy and everyone else, this article indicates that cycling really, really fast is the narrow winner.