Burning Calories Through Exercise
Do you want to be more active? Check out the physical activity guidelines and examples to get started.

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Burning Calories Through Exercise

If you want to maintain a healthy weight, you have to pay attention to calories - not just the calories you consume, but the calories you burn off.

A calorie is a unit of energy supplied by food. We take in calories through what we eat and drink. We use or "burn off" calories through the activities of daily life, exercise and even at rest.

In the end, it's a balancing act. If you eat more calories than you use, you'll store the extra calories as fat and gain weight. If you eat fewer calories than you use, you'll use your stored fat and lose weight. If you are eating about the same number of calories that your body uses, your weight should remain stable.

Exercise is a key part of burning calories and helping us maintain a healthy weight. Exercise helps us use extra calories that would otherwise be stored as fat.

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends most adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week. This can be broken down into 10-minute segments three times a day. Engaging in at least 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic exercise each week can also satisfy the recommendation. Strength training is also suggested at least two days a week.

Aerobic exercise or "cardio" gets us breathing harder and our heart beating faster. The energy it requires burns calories. Strength- training exercises build muscle, which also helps us burn calories. Muscle tissues use more energy than fat and therefore burn more calories.

The amount of calories you burn depends on your weight and height. It also depends on your age, gender and activity level.

Therefore, a person can't easily compare how he or she uses calories to someone else. Each person's body will use calories differently. For example, men typically burn more calories than women because they usually have more muscle. But no matter who you are, physical activity will help the body use energy and burn calories.

Online tools can help you calculate how many calories you burn when you exercise. Simply plug in your activity, how long you did it and your current weight. Some workout machines can also calculate calories burned. To find out how many calories you burn when you exercise, visit the Calories Burned Calculator under Healthy Weight Tools.

Some activities burn more calories than others. Here are examples of calorie burns for a 154-pound person doing 30 minutes of moderate and vigorous activity:

Moderate-intensity activity means you are able to have a conversation while being active.

Moderate Activity

Approximate Calories Burned

Walking (3.5 mph)


Bicycling (10 mph)


Light Gardening




Vigorous activity means you are not able to carry on a conversation and can only say a few words without stopping for a breath during activity.

Vigorous Activity

Approximate Calories Burned

Swimming (slow freestyle laps)


Jogging (5 mph)


Walking (4.5 mph)


Bicycling (10 mph)


Speak with your doctor or a dietitian about how many calories are right for you. Talk to your doctor before starting or changing an exercise routine. Be sure it is safe for you to be physically active.

By Jennifer Mitchell, Editor
Created on 01/03/2013
Updated on 01/03/2013
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing weight gain.
  • United States Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 physical activity guidelines for Americans.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How many calories are used in typical activities.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measuring physical activity intensity.
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