Burning Calories With Everyday Activities
Watch TV or mow the lawn? The difference in calories burned is staggering.
By Krisha McCoy, MS
Medically reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH
If the thought of working up a sweat on the treadmill at the gym to burn calories doesn't appeal to you, you'll be happy to know that you can burn plenty of calories just by doing everyday activities.
"Research shows that people who are physically active during the day can burn an extra 300 calories per day," says Pete McCall, MS, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise. "Over 12 days, that can add up to an extra pound of weight loss," he says.
Burning Calories: The "NEAT" Way
McCall says that these extra 300 calories per day can come from what is called non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT, which accounts for the energy that you expend when you are not sleeping, eating, or doing structured physical activities like jogging or sports.
"NEAT" activities include things like walking or riding a bike for transportation, typing on the computer, working in the yard, and cleaning the house. Even fidgeting is considered a "NEAT" activity that can turn up your calorie-burning engine.
These activities help you burn calories by increasing your metabolic rate. This is why agricultural and manual workers tend to have higher metabolic rates than people who live more leisurely lifestyles. In fact, the calories burned through NEAT can differ by as much as 2,000 calories per day between two people who are similar in size.
Burning Calories: Totaling the Burn
"NEAT" calories can really add up — and fast.
According to Kimberly Lummus, MS, RD, Texas Dietetic Association media representative and public relations coordinator for the Austin Dietetic Association in Austin, Texas, in 30 minutes a person who weighs 150 pounds can burn the following number of calories:
• Raking leaves = 147 calories
• Gardening or weeding = 153 calories
• Moving (packing and unpacking) = 191 calories
• Vacuuming = 119 calories
• Cleaning the house = 102 calories
• Playing with the kids (moderate activity level) = 136 calories
• Mowing the lawn = 205 calories
• Strolling = 103 calories
• Sitting and watching TV = 40 calories
• Biking to work (on a flat surface) = 220 calories
Burning Calories: A Little More Every Day
If you are trying to increase the number of calories you burn, make an effort to do more "spontaneous physical activities" throughout your day. The best way to do this is to reduce the time you spend sitting, while adding calorie-burning activities to your daily routine.
McCall says that the following can increase your level of calorie-burning throughout the day:
• Walk down the hall to see a colleague rather than making a phone call or sending an e-mail.
• Take the stairs instead of an elevator or escalator.
• Clean your house instead of using a cleaning service.
• Take your dog out for more frequent walks.
• Ride your bike or walk to work rather than driving.
You can also consider wearing a pedometer to track the number of steps you take throughout the day. Once you have an idea of how many steps you take on average, set increasingly higher goals for yourself and find ways to take a few extra steps each day. Before you know it, you'll find yourself running up stairs, volunteering to sweep the porch, and finding reasons to walk to the store. The more you move, the more you'll want to move!