Three Ways You Can Burn More Calories to Reach Your Fitness Goals

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Wing commander runs up flight of stairs during the Sept. 11 Tower Run.
Col. Kenneth Moss, 374th Airlift Wing commander, runs up a flight of stairs during the Sept. 11 Tower Run at Yokota Air Base. (Machiko Arita/U.S. Air Force photo)

No matter what your goals might be, it's essential to understand the relationship between burning calories and consuming calories. A solid understanding can help with weight loss, weight gain, improved athletic performance, and general health and wellness maintenance.

Success at your chosen goal will depend on how many calories you are burning and how many calories you are consuming each day. Highly active people may have trouble gaining or maintaining weight as they may find it difficult to consume more calories than they burn over the course of a day. On the other hand, losing weight may come easy for that type of person.

As we age, we typically turn from a hard gainer to easy gainer and hard loser. The non-active person trying to lose weight will require a lifestyle change that increases activity but also reduces the total calories consumed. Age has a way of forcing us all to require a closer watch to diet and portion control.

Here is a breakdown of all the ways we burn and consume calories so we can better understand the process. If you walk 20 minutes, you may burn 100 calories. Those 100 calories are equal to a medium-sized cookie. Therefore, you can associate walking 20 minutes with burning off a cookie. Moving more is the key to burning more calories, and you can do that with fitness training, everyday living and other non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).

Training

Exercise can burn hundreds of calories an hour and is the most time-efficient way to accumulate burned calories. Activities can include walking, biking, running, swimming, lifting weights, doing calisthenics and other fitness classes or sporting activities.

The longer and more intense the activity, the more calories you will burn. A good range of exercise calories burned is 500-1,000 calories per day, but this requires more than an hour of activity.

If you have less time, make your efforts more intense, and you may be able to burn more calories in a shorter amount of time and get in the 300-500 calories per day range, even with a 30-minute workout.

Five hundred extra calories burned a day will accumulate to 3,500 calories in a week -- which is a pound of weight lost. This is a healthy way to lose weight, but also requires some discipline and consistency.

Living

Just breathing, sitting, standing, digesting and regulating body temperature are all ways the body naturally burns calories. Standing desks can burn more calories than sitting in a chair all day, doing sedentary jobs. Though the difference between standing and sitting is not a lot of caloric difference in a day of work (50-100 calories more per workday), the accumulation of an additional 100 calories a day can be a pound of weight loss in a month.

Just living burns calories. That is why most diets recommend on average 1,500 calories a day for women and 1,800-2,000 calories a day for men as a healthy number to consume each day. These are the numbers that the average person burns just staying alive each day. If you do not exercise and still eat a few hundred calories less a day from those recommendations, you will lose weight. If you consume a few hundred calories per day above that range, you will gain weight once you have accumulated 3,500 calories over the course of several days.

One way to double up the total calories placed in the deficit column and reach a healthy weight-loss goal of two pounds per week is by reducing your caloric intake by 500 calories and increasing your caloric burn by 500 calories a day. This is a magic 1,000 calories per day that can change your life.

Notice how simple it also is to consume an extra 500 calories a day and not exercise an extra 500 calories. This 1,000-calorie surplus a day leads to two pounds per week of weight gain.

Consistency can create remarkable results. Even at just a pound per week, that can be 50 pounds gained or 50 pounds lost annually, depending on how you manipulate that balance of energy. Read more about the 1,000 calories that can kill us or save us.

How NEAT Is Your Life?

Move more and get things accomplished. If you are not into "wasting time on a treadmill," get to work in the yard and accomplish difficult tasks while you burn calories. The amount of non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) you perform in a day simply means you move by doing manual labor, yard work or other physically demanding chores.

Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park at the far end of the parking lot and walk to your destination or walk to mow your grass instead of sitting on a riding mower. All of these activities can all be placed into the NEAT caloric-burn category and aid significantly to your total calorie burn.

You may find it difficult to keep track of all the extra calories burned in any given time, but there are many wearable technology applications that enable users to closely track the total calories burned throughout the day. These devices can show you trends and total calories burned in a week or month as well.

Consider tracking your daily calorie output with the Apple Watch or iPhone fitness app. The Move Ring or Oura Rings are also useful technologies that can assist with keeping track of these total daily calories burned in all three phases of caloric burn, plus they can tell you how well you are sleeping at night to help determine whether you have recovered well from yesterday's stresses.

You will find you can burn a significant number of calories in a day, but it is just as easy to consume even more if you are not careful. From morning coffees that are basically desserts to big meals throughout the day, your input can quickly match your caloric output.

Problems can arise when you have significant caloric burn throughout the day, but the meals, snacks and high-calorie drinks you consume quickly eliminate any caloric deficit and create a caloric surplus. That is great if your goal is to gain weight, but if you are trying to lose or maintain weight, accurately tracking the consumption of food and high-calorie drinks and snacks can be the difference between success or failure to achieve that goal. A recent study of nutrition and calorie applications for tracking may be useful.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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