Do you think your body only burns calories during a workout? Newsflash! You are constantly burning calories, whether you are sitting on the couch or panting in a spin class. For some, keeping track of calories consumed and calories burned can be a helpful way to keep energy expenditure in balance to reach a body composition goal (however, it is not the only way). Regardless, there is a way to burn a few extra calories each day through some surprising and easy ways that don’t require hours in the gym.
When we typically think of calorie burning, we think of hard, sweat-driven workouts. We think of running a certain number of miles to “make up” for the calories we consumed from an indulgent treat. Cardiovascular training machines like treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes often have calorie counters that estimate how many calories are burned during a session (key word: estimate. Most machines vastly over-estimate and are often not personalized). Fixating only on number of calories in and out can each day can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise. However, understanding what energy your body needs, fueling it properly, and balancing energy expenditure through activity helps support the metabolism and overall health.
The body strategically burns and stores energy based on a unique measure of metabolism called the resting metabolic rate (RMR). RMR is defined by the number of calories burned in a 24-hour period while the body is at rest (not including any fitness or lifestyle activities). What determines your RMR is somewhat genetic, but can be largely affected by lifestyle and environment. Not all calories burned each day is through physical activity. Calories are not just needed to fuel workouts, but they are also crucial for internal processes in the body, like digestion, detoxification, and even thinking. In fact, it is estimated that only 10% of calories burned each day is through structured workouts. The majority of calories burned each day comes from baseline RMR and bodily functions, lifestyle activities, and the thermogenic effect of food. We can, however, support the body to continue burning calories throughout the day with a few surprising tricks.
Do some housework
While not the most glamorous activity, doing housework can burn a significant number of calories, depending on the amount of time dedicated to the activity. Sweeping, dusting, vacuuming or tidying up keeps you on your feet and active, using the core, arms and leg muscles all at once. According so expert sources, a 150-pound person doing housework for one hour can burn up to 200 calories.
Fidget a little
Got a persistent knee tap or foot shake? Turns out, fidgeting while sitting or standing can increase the number of calories you burn per day by close to 30% if done constantly, compared to sitting still. Not that we endorse picking up a fidgeting habit, as this can be annoying to neighboring workers or family members, micro-movements in muscles generate heat energy within the body to burn more calories over time.
Spice things up
As previously mentioned, the food we eat can have a substantial impact on how many calories the body burns per day. This concept, known as the thermogenic effect of food, refers to how much energy (heat) the body uses to process food and convert it to usable compounds. For instance, the body works slightly “harder” to process protein (9 calories of protein versus 4 calories of fats or carbohydrates). Also, eating heat-generating foods like chili peppers, ginger, and some starchy vegetables has been shown to increase thermodynamics in the body.
We should all take a lesson from kids for this calorie-burn tip. Playtime is crucial for a child’s developing mind and body, and can provide adults with similar benefits. The next time you’re faced with a decision to supervise playtime or participate, choose to participate. Run, move, balance, hop, swing or dance with a child as they play and you could burn as many calories as you would during a moderate workout.
Use your noggin
The brain accounts for 2% of the body’s weight but uses 20% of its energy to function. For the typical person, this can mean up to 320 calories burned on average per day just by using the mind. Engaging your mind daily with puzzles, word games or special reasoning activities can also reduce risks of cognitive health, promote longevity and ward off premature aging in the mind, some research suggests.While it’s not mentally healthy to live our lives worried about every single calorie each day, balancing energy expenditure can have a significant impact on overall metabolic health. Choosing the right foods, staying active, getting high-quality sleep and drinking plenty of water are other ways to support your metabolism. Finding small ways to keep calories burning throughout the day can add up to health benefits over time.