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Exercise and Weight Loss
How many calories does exercise REALLY burn?

How many calories does exercise REALLY burn?
How many calories does that exercise really burn?

Americans are being told the solution to our obesity problem is simple. Just move more. The reason everyone is so fat is because we sit around more than our parents or grandparents.

It's a completely rational argument. With all our labor-saving devices, chores around the house and work require far less physical labor than in the past. We're also staring at television and computer screens much longer than we ever have, reducing movement even more.

But that's not really the biggest contributor to our nations weight gain. The problem is we're eating too much. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), between the years 1970 and 2000, we've increased the amount of calories we take in every day by 24.5 percent. That's an increase of 530 calories EVERY DAY.

Let's pretend our activity levels were exactly the same today as they were 30 years ago. By eating 530 calories a day more, we would put on over 55 pounds a year, every year. We can't solve the obesity problem without doing something to reduce the amount of calories we eat.

That's where food companies come in. When we eat less, their profits drop, because they sell less food. Any attempt at getting Americans to eat less, is quickly drowned out with the message that it's not the food, but the exercise.

Michelle Obama started a campaign in 2010 called "Let's Move." She gave a fiery opening speech at the Grocery Manufacturers Association conference where she talked about companies like Kraft and General Mills. She said they should quit targeting children with deceptive ads for fat and sugar-filled foods. When referring to the food companies she said:

"And all of you have a responsibility as well. ...we need you not just to tweak around the edges, but to entirely rethink the products that you’re offering, the information that you provide about these products, and how you market those products to our children. That starts with revamping or ramping up your efforts to reformulate your products, particularly those aimed at kids, so that they have less fat, salt, and sugar, and more of the nutrients that our kids need.

As a mom, I know it is my responsibility — and no one else’s — to raise my kids. But what does it mean when so many parents are finding that their best efforts are undermined by an avalanche of advertisements aimed at their kids? And what are these ads teaching kids about food and nutrition? That it’s good to have salty, sugary food and snacks every day — breakfast, lunch, and dinner?"

Taking on the deceptive and exploitative practices of the processed food companies was a refreshing start. But it didn't last. Within a year, the corporate partners of the Let's Move program including General Mills, Kellogg, Nestlé, Walmart and Walt Disney helped change the campaign. Instead of talking about healthier eating habits, Let's Move is now focusing on exercise and personal fitness.

Exercise is vital to long-term health, but the act of exercising burns far fewer calories than most people realize. When someone begins an exercise program, one of the things a doctor will recommend is simply to start walking. Get up and walk around for 30 minutes or so, at least five days a week. It's good advice. But when people do that, the amount of calories they burn is surprisingly small.

If you weigh 150 pounds and walk for 30 minutes at a moderate pace, how many calories do you think you burn?

  • 102
  • 134
  • 203
  • 255

The depressing reality is 102. That's less than half the calories you'll get in a small order of fries from McDonald's. Telling people they have to move more to drop the weight isn't enough.

In 2015, as sales for sugary beverages drop, Coca-Cola decided the best way to hang onto customers was to shift the blame. Coca-Cola gave over 1.5 million dollars to a new nonprofit called Global Energy Balance Network. The scientists the nonprofit hired to make the argument that Americans are too overly fixated on food and that we need to exercise more.

You've just learned that's not true. Without limiting the calories we get from food and sugary drinks, we're never going to drop the fat. Any weight loss plan you start has got to deal with calories, you're not going to simply exercise your way out of the problem.

UPDATE: 12/2/2015

On December 1st, 2015, the "Global Energy Balance Network" was officially shut down. Their website says, "Effective immediately, GEBN is discontinuing operations due to resource limitations."

The Associated Press revealed that along with a $1 million donation, Coca Cola helped select the GEBN leaders, edited the GEBN mission statement and suggested content for the GEBN website.

The Global Energy Balance Network claimed to fund research into causes of obesity, but was primarily known for pushing the flawed idea that America can exercise its way out of the obesity epidemic rather than restricting calories.

Below are several exercise calculators. To figure out how many calories a particular exercise burns, simply enter your weight, exercise type and duration.

Exercise Calculators

About.com Exercise Calculator BodyBuilding.com Exercise Calculator MyFitnessPal Exercise Calculator WebMD.com Exercise Calculator

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Updated 12/2/2015
Updated 12/6/2021