A recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE found that while Americans weigh more than ever, our energy output is nearly the same as our more active ancestors who hunted and foraged for food. We know that in modern society it is easier to expend less energy, thanks to computers, automobiles and jam-packed schedules. However, if your goal is to lose weight, there are plenty of simple ways you can burn more calories throughout your day.
Your best exercise plan
First, start with a calorie-torching exercise plan. Jennifer Hopper, M.S., ACSM-HFS-CET, manager of Piedmont Atlanta Health & Fitness Club, says you first need to put your body in an inefficient pattern.
An inefficient pattern means you switch up your workouts so your body is constantly challenged.
“For example, if you walk all the time, your body is going to become very efficient at that routine,” she says. “Your body can become used to a workout, so you always want to change things up to maximize your calorie expenditure.”
Rather than recommend specific exercises to maximize calorie burn, Hopper says it really depends on the individual.
“If all you can do is walk, then that’s the best exercise to burn calories,” she explains. “But if you have joint problems and are already walking frequently, try swimming. You can burn a lot of calories in the water. By changing the efficiency of your movements, you’ll burn more calories.”
Interval training is also a fantastic calorie blaster, particularly for people who are short on time. “If you walk or jog for a few minutes then sprint for 10 to 20 seconds, you’re going to burn more calories,” says Hopper. “Interval training is really good as long as you have a lot of variety.”
For gym-goers, she suggests trying the rowing machine or jumping rope.
“Not only will you get an upper body workout, but also a lower body workout,” she says. “This is a different type of movement for a lot of individuals. Think of movements your body doesn’t usually do, such as jumping rope or jumping jacks. Jump rope for a minute, rest briefly, then try jumping jacks and repeat. This is a great calorie torcher.”
Fitting exercise into a busy day
“Studies by the American College of Sports Medicine have found that short bursts of activity add up throughout the day,” says Hopper. “You can try 15-minute workouts in the morning and again at lunch, followed by 30 minutes walking at the end of day.”
She says that while short workouts can definitely burn calories, longer periods of exercise are excellent for stress reduction, so be sure to mix short workouts with longer ones throughout the week. “It’s great news because if you’re pressed for time and not exercising, that should no longer be an excuse,” she says. “You can get in a 10- to 15-minute calorie burning workout with a jump rope and rest when you need to. Just like in life, it’s important to take yourself out of your comfort zone.”
Weight training is essential
Hopper says weight training is crucial for both men and women.
“The more muscle you have — even if you don’t necessarily look muscular — the more efficiently your body runs and the more calories you’ll burn,” she says. “Weight training is essential because it stabilizes and strengthens your body and joints. It also allows you to perform exercises in a safer manner so you can really maximize the time you’re spending working out.”
Weight training does not necessarily mean pumping iron, she explains. You can still get an effective weight-bearing workout through body weight exercises, like pushups, planks, pull-ups, squats and sit-ups.
How often to exercise
“I recommend exercising most days of the week, but not working same muscle group on back to back days,” Hopper says. “For example, make day one upper body training and cardio, day two lower body exercises and cardio, day three cardio only, day four rest, and so on.”
Take at least one day off from exercise each week to allow your muscles time to rest and repair.
Burning Calories in Your Everyday Routine
You can also maximize calorie burn at work, while running errands and during your daily activities.
“Take the stairs. If taking the stairs seems like a monumental task, take stairs going down. Think of it in stages. Once you get into that habit, then you can start taking them upstairs. Walking the stairs torches calories beautifully and it’s energizing,” she says. “Stand up and walk around as much as possible. Talk on the phone standing up and walk back and forth. Park your car as far away from your destination as you safely can. Aim for 10,000 steps a day; every step counts.”
To track how many steps you are taking, you can purchase a pedometer for less than $20 at most stores, she says.
Take control of your health
“I want people to think of exercise as not another obligation, but as a way to control their health and body,” says Hopper. “That’s what our job is at the club, to help individuals regain control of their bodies, regardless of the conditions they’re living with. Our bodies are resilient and can be healing if we treat them well.”
Check out more ways to get active.