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Caloric Cost of Physical Activity

The Caloric Cost of Physical Activity and Exercise
By Fabio Comana, M.A., M.S.

While we all can read nutritional labels and have a thorough understanding of what calories we consume, questions often arise as to the amount of calories we burn throughout the day undertaking a variety of different activities. The information provided herein is intended to answer those questions.

Firstly, we must understand that the total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) our body spends on a daily basis is influenced by three factors:

  1. Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR), the minimal energy requirement needed to sustain all the body’s functions in a waking state. This typically represents 60-75% of TDEE and is affected by:

    • Body size (larger individuals with more muscle mass will have greater RMR

    • Age (RMR tends to peaks in early adulthood, declining 2-3% per decade thereafter)

    • Gender (females typically have 5-10% lower RMR than males)

    • Climate (individuals living in extreme environments can have 5-20% increases in RMR for survival)

  2. Thermic Effect of Food (cost of digestion and absorption) represents 10% of TDEE with protein foods requiring the most energy to digest and absorb.

  3. Energy Expended during Physical Activity and recovery. This is the most variable and represents 15-30% of TDEE on average.

Several formulas of differing accuracies exist by which we can calculate our TDEE. Some are simply gross estimates and demonstrated to be quite inaccurate.

  Sedentary Lifestyle Moderately Active Very Active
Men: Weight (in pounds) x 14-15 16-17 18
Women: Weight (in pounds) x 12-13 14-15 16

Example: For a sedentary 140# woman: 140# x 12.5 = 1,750 calories / day.

A more accurate and more complex formula was originally conceived in 1939, has undergone a few revisions, but still remains as one of the more accurate formulas to date.

Gender Formula
Men RMR = 88.362 + 4.799(cm) + 13.397(kg) - 5.677(age)
Women RMR = 447.593 + 3.098(cm) + 9.247(kg) - 4.33(age)
  Height = cm (1" = 2.54cm). Weight in kg (2.2# = 1kg). Age in years

The above calculation is then multiplied by an activity factor representing your level of daily activity.

  • Sedentary = x 1.2
  • Light = 1.375
  • Moderate = x 1.55
  • Active = 1.725
  • Hard = x 1.9

Example: For A sedentary 140# women, 5’6”, 35 years of age:

  • RMR = 447.593 + (3.098 x 167.6cm) + (9.247 x 63.6kg) – (4.33 x 35 years) = 1403.4 calories

  • 1403.4 calories x 1.2 = 1,685 calories/day

Caloric Cost of Various Physical Activities
Often, our interest lies in estimating the caloric cost of completing individual activities as opposed to calculating TDEE. The following table gives you the caloric costs of common, everyday activities per minute per kg of body weight. To calculate your cost, simply multiply the value of the specific activity by your body weight in kg (1kg = 2.2 pounds), then multiply that answer by the duration your spent completing that activity for your total score.

Example: A 140# lady walking 3mph (20min/mile pace) for 15 minutes = 0.07 x 64.6kg x 15 = 67 calories

Activity Energy Expenditure
(calories/min/kg)
Activity Energy Expenditure
(calories/min/kg)
Racquetball (recreational) 0.07 Cycling (light, <10 mph) 0.12
Kayaking (leisure) 0.04 Cycling (light-moderate, 10-12 mph) 0.10
Dancing (general) 0.08 Cycling (moderate, 12.1-14 mph) 0.14
Golf (walking + bag) 0.09 Cycling (hard, 14.1-16 mph) 0.18
Running (5 mph, 12 min/mile) 0.12 Cycling (v. hard, 16.1-19 mph) 0.21
Running 5.5 mph (11 min/mile) 0.14 Cycling (stationary, 50W) 0.05
Running (6 mph, 10 min/mile) 0.16 Cycling (stationary, 100W) 0.09
Running (6.6 mph, 9 min/mile) 0.19 Cycling (stationary, 150W) 0.12
Running (7.5 mph 8 min/mile) 0.22 Cycling (stationary, 200W) 0.18
Running (8.6 mph, 7 min/mile) 0.24 Cycling (stationary, 250W) 0.22
Running (10 mph, 6 min/mile) 0.28 Calisthenics (push-ups, etc.) 0.08
Chopping Wood 0.09 Circuit Training 0.14
Mowing Lawn (walking, power) 0.08 Weight Training (light) 0.05
Raking Leaves 0.07 Weight Training (hard) 0.10
Trimming (manual) 0.07 Rowing (50W) 0.06
Weeding/Gardening 0.07 Rowing (100W) 0.12
Sitting Activities (very light) 0.03 Rowing (150W) 0.15
Standing (very light) 0.04 Rowing (200W) 0.21
Walking (3 mph 20 min/mile) 0.06 Stretching/Yoga 0.06
Walking (3.5 mph, 17 min/mile) 0.07 Aerobics (low impact) 0.09
Walking (4 mph 15 min/mile) 0.08 Aerobics (high impact) 0.12
Sweeping 0.05 Volleyball (recreational) 0.05
Washing Car 0.07 Bathing/Dressing 0.04
House Cleaning 0.06 Sexual Activity (kissing, hugs) 0.02
Washing Dishes/Ironing 0.04 Sexual Activity (active) 0.03
Cooking Food 0.04 Swimming (light) 0.10
Carrying Groceries (light) 0.07 Swimming (moderate) 0.14
Laundry Folding/Making Bed 0.04 Sleeping 0.02
Playing with Kids (sitting) 0.04 Child Care (sitting) 0.05
Playing with Kids (standing) 0.05 Child Care (standing) 0.06

Adapted from McArdle, W., Katch, F., & Katch, V. (2001). Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance (5th Ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.