How Much Exercise to Burn That Off? 12 November 2013

If you knew how many “sweat equivalents” you would have to exert because of your food choices at a restaurant, would that influence you more than calorie counts provided on a menu?

A recent article, I'll have to exercise HOW LONG to work that off? from the Los Angeles Times summarized new research which demonstrated that when diners at restaurants are confronted with exercise equivalents posted on the menu they ordered lower-calorie meals than those who could see the calorie amount for each food item.

Two Studies

At Texas Christian University 300 young adults were offered menus with typical college dining options: hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, French fries, salads, desserts, sodas, and water.

A third of the students received a menu with no calorie counts; a third of the students received a menu with calorie counts; a third of the students received a menu that listed the estimated number of brisk minutes it would take to burn off those calories for that food item.

Those who saw the exercise equivalents chose meals that were on average lighter in calories than those who received no information or those who received the meals with calorie counts on the menu.

Another study had similar findings and discovered that teens don't find soft drinks so sweet if seeing sweat equivalents. When teens found out that they needed to run for 50 minutes to burn off a 250 calorie, sugar-sweetened beverage, such as soda, sports drinks, energy drinks or juice drinks, they opted for the lower-calorie drinks instead, such as water.

What about you?

If you knew that you would need to run around the block five times to burn off the calories in those leftover Halloween candy bars, would you think twice about eating them?

Would you order the small fries rather than the large fries, if you knew you would have lift weights for 30 minutes to burn off those extra calories from the larger portion?

Would you add extra bacon or mayonnaise to your submarine sandwich if you knew you would have to run on the elliptical machine for an extra 30 minutes?

Take the exercise and calorie challenge!

Step 1: Write down 3 different types of exercise. List how many calories are burned in each type of exercise and how long you would have to do them. Look at this table to see how many calories are used in typical activities (Note: you need to scroll down to the bottom of the Centers for Disease Control link to see the table). You can also use MyNetDiary exercise tracker to help you determine calories burned for various exercises.

Step 2: List 3 foods, that you eat, that have about those same calories as listed above. Use MyNetDiary Instant Food Search to calculate calories for each portion.

My example: Pumpkin scone versus walking

For my exercise, I chose walking at 3.5 mph which burns 140 calories in 30 minutes. Secondly, I discovered that a pumpkin scone at my favorite coffee shop contains 480 calories. Thus, I calculated that I would need to walk 1 hour and 42 minutes to burn off the calories provided by this one (1) pumpkin scone.

Step 3: Reflect. Does knowing the “sweat equivalents” influence your future food choices?

Here are some answers I received from my students in my weight loss class when I asked them the same question. Maybe, you can relate to their answers.

  • I would make better choices.
  • I would rather eat less than exercise harder and longer to burn it off.
  • I must admit when I see the amount of calories it doesn't dawn on me just how much work it would take to burn those extra calories by adding bacon to my sub, or mayo. I think if I were faced with the time it would take to burn the food off I would really think twice about my selections.
  • Who would want to walk two hours to burn off those dessert calories?

Knowing “sweat equivalents” can help you make wise food choices and think about portion control!

Maybe, I would be satisfied sharing my pumpkin scone with four friends! Better on the budget too!

Martha Henze, MS, RD, Traveling Taste Buds, LLC,
Martha is an instructor at a community college, avid tennis player, and tries to attend cooking school in every country she visits.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


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