These heart pumping exercises burn more calories
To be alive means to consume energy. Movement requires calories, but so do pumping blood, breathing, and performing other essential functions. When you read or watch TV, your body hums in the background, churning out about 100 calories per hour. But what if you want to speed up your metabolic rate, sweat and make your body gobble up a lot of calories? Then you have to increase your activity levels.
As a rule of thumb or the body’s rule, cardiovascular and aerobic exercises burn the most calories. In general, anything that raises our heart rate will burn more calories, says Steve Herrmann, a research assistant professor who directs the University of Kansas Weight Management Program and maintains the Compendium of Physical Activities, a reference guide on health that collects the energy costs for different exercises and activities.
Targeting the biggest calorie burners on the list isn’t going to be the right fitness approach for everyone. If you’re still getting in shape, it’s very important to get into the habit of being active, says Herrmann. Walking several times a week will give you a solid foundation to build on. You can then layer on strength training and eventually find an exercise routine that you enjoy doing regularly that maintains your fitness levels. If high-intensity interval training gets you there, it might not be the thing that sustains you, Herrmann points out. Some people realize they love solo runs or bike rides. Others stay motivated by exercising together with friends.
Behind the calorie consumption
In theory, calories are nothing more than a measure of energy. The calorie was initially defined as the energy required to heat one gram of water by 1C, but scientists later officially linked it to the joule, another unit of energy. Nutritional calories, or kilocalories, are 1,000 times that. There are four nutritional calories per gram of carbohydrate or protein and nine calories per gram of fat.
In reality, and especially within the biological machinery of your gut, simple calorie math falls apart. While every nutrition label includes a standard measure of calories, your actual calorie intake depends on multiple factors related to your body. The microbes in your gut are one example. As a result, some people may consume more calories as they digest food; some store more calories as fat; and some excrete more calories when nature calls.
[Related: 5 nutrition goals that are better than weight loss]
The rate at which calories are burned can also be influenced by many factors, including age, genetics and muscle tone. In general, the more you weigh, the more energy you expend doing a certain activity because you have to move more mass, Herrmann explains. As people lose weight, they must increase the duration or intensity of an exercise to burn the same amount of calories.
Should you count calories?
Thinking about calories can be helpful for both meal planning and workouts. Overall, the philosophy of calories in and calories out is a good one, says April Ho, a dietitian and personal trainer at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Your body must burn more calories than you are taking in if you want to lose weight. But it also has its limitations: Ho cautions that relying on calorie-counting tools might give you an unaccepted sense of accuracy, thanks to the sheer amount of variables that affect how many calories you absorb and expend. Don’t strain yourself trying to estimate exact numbers, she says, because you’ll probably be wrong anyway.
It can also be difficult and expensive to measure calories in experiments. One method is to have people drink dual-labeled water, which carries harmless radioactive versions of hydrogen and oxygen through a person’s body. Observing the tagged elements in urine or other fluids allows scientists to calculate an athlete’s energy expenditure throughout the day.
But the most accurate way to gauge someone’s metabolic rate is with a direct calorimeter. This small room filled with sensors monitors the heat people produce as they move around inside. The instrument is not for everyday use, it takes about $1 million to build one of the rooms, which is why Herrmann knows less than a dozen of them in the United States.
Exercises that burn more calories
Below are the exercises that burn the most calories, based on the University of Rochester’s calorie burn rate calculator. All values are based on one hour of activity and the average weight of Americans ages 20 and older, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is 170 pounds for women and 200 pounds for men.
Cycling at 20 mph: 1,400 to 1,600 calories
Cycling, like running, is another heart-pounding exercise that engages many muscle groups. Stationary cycling uses less energy than road cycling at about 900 to 1,000 calories per hour at maximum speed. When you’re inside on a stationary bike, your shoulders are relaxed, you don’t have to spin, Herrmann points out. There’s not even wind to contend with. To increase the burn on a machine, you can increase the resistance or add small dumbbells.
High-impact aerobics: 800 to 960 calories
I recommend two types of workouts to raise your metabolic rate and keep it elevated after an exercise is done. One, circuit training, involves strength training and cardio at the same time, she says, like switching quickly from squats to crunches with no breaks between each activity. The other, high-intensity interval training, can similarly raise your metabolic rate for several hours longer than other types of exercise, Ho says. This is cardio with bursts of high output, like a one-minute sprint followed by three minutes of more moderate activity.
[Related: Jumping rope is an unbeatable cardio workoutif you do it correctly]
Swim laps: 800 to 1,000 calories
Moving in the water trains your limbs and increases your heart rate while avoiding the joint stress of footsteps on the sidewalk. But what about a long dunk in a cold pond? A scientific review published in 2022 found that swimming in ice-cold water can reduce the risk of diabetes and other ailments. As for other advertised benefits, such as weight loss, the evidence was unclear, the authors determined.
Weight lifting: 500 to 580 calories
As you might suspect, the heavier the weights you lift, the more calories you’ll burn. Building muscle tone can also make everyday activities and common movements a little easier on your body. But it’s important to remember that you have to build bigger dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells. Going from 0 to 100 increases your risk of tears and other injuries.
Sports: up to 960 calories
There’s a maxim among some fitness gurus that the best workout is the one you’ll do. Even if it is trivial, there is some truth. If you enjoy participating in sports and it taps into the community spirit of exercise that Herrmann encourages, know that you’re burning calories while you play. An hour of martial arts like karate and kickboxing consumes 840 to 960 calories. Water polo? 800 to 960. A basketball game? 670 to 770 calories. Even some video games can use up more calories (she thinks excitedly as she leans down and swings her arms WiiTennis or VR games like Beat Saber), which convinced Herrmann to include the game in an upcoming revision of the Compendium of Physical Activities.
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