Thursday, May 19, 2011

Calories burned worm digging?

Can't say I ever wondered how many calories I'd burn digging worms, but that didn't stop me from being amused to find that very activity in the bible of energy expenditure, The Compendium of Physical Activities Tracking Guide.

So, digging worms, with shovel? That's a 4.0 MET activity.

What's a MET?

It stands for metabolic equivalent of task, and the easiest way to define it is as a reference, where 1.0 METs is the energy required to laze around doing nothing. Worm digging with a shovel therefore, takes 4x the energy required to lie around.

Actual calories burned will vary based on many factors, though a rough generalization would be that a 1.0 MET activity would burn 1kcal/kg/hr. Laze around for an hour, and if you're a 72kg guy like me, you'll burn 72kcal doing so.

A great many folks trying to lose weight keep track of the calories they burn exercising. Often they'll use them as negative calories whereby they'll subtract them from the calories they've consumed to give a net total.

Unless you're a truly hardcore record keeper or exerciser, I don't think that's the greatest plan.

Reason being is that record keeping is fraught with error.

I'd look at your exercise as being a means to buffer your error, not as a means to lower your count. Only exceptions there would be incredibly accurate record keepers, or folks who were exercising significant amounts.

The exercising folks, it's not that I'd want them to calculate net calories, just that I think it's important, if exercising for more than 45mins, to fuel properly so as to minimize the potential impact of exercise on hunger.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, that same bible notes caulking or chinking a log cabin as a 5.0 MET activity.

Playing the accordion? 1.8. Bookbinding? 2.3 Horse grooming? 6.0. Pushing a plane in and out of a hanger (huh?)? 6.0, and SCUBA diving as a navy frogman? 12.0.

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  1. I agree. I had a client who was using an online program to track his calories in/out and would allow himself to eat more calories when he was burning more calories. He was stuck at a "plateau", so I told him to try to keep his intake the same no matter what his exercise was - and he started losing weight again!

    Still, the compendium is pretty awesome. In school we had to do a project where we tracked our own intake/output and I had a friend who was on the Woodsman team (yes, they exist...) and she got to put in some of the funnier ones, like chopping wood and such.

  2. Anonymous12:15 pm

    This is amazing! It's a fantastic resource to satisfy curiosity, but it might not be the best tool for those who are overly obsessed with calories. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I was using a website that had that formula for eating back calories burned, and it worked OK for me. It was a pain to track all that though.

    I'm wondering what your opinion is for folks like me that do a lot of exercise. I run three miles three days a week, do a weight routine the other three days, and take a rest one day.

    Do you think I should eat just as many calories on my rest day as on my other days?

  4. essbee5:27 pm

    Er, what about scuba diving as a normal person? Oh wait, that's there: 7.0. Those Navy Seals are serious!

    The bible is a fascinating and fun one, but I can't imagine trying to track anyone's personal actual calorie expenditure...tracking calories IN is difficult enough, and not nearly as complex as calories out. Frankly, I agree that tracking (and reducing) calories in is a much more effective weight control strategy.

    For me, exercise is about general physical preparedness: If I'm going to be able to lift somebody out of a wheelchair and put them in a kayak, I need to be fit and strong. When I want to lose weight, I leave my physical activity where it is (quite a lot, actually, compared to the average USian) and eat less. Duh. Maybe I take the stairs a little more or add in some extra running or jump rope or similar, but I don't count on exercise to get me out of a dietary hole.

    Which is pretty much the entire thrust of nearly everything I've read on this blog. So I guess I'm a choir-member...but I still like reading the blog.

  5. Hi Shawmutt,

    Instead I'd put it this way.

    Although you're certainly doing a respectable amount of exercise, you likely don't need to eat any extra on your exercise days as it would seem that the exercise duration is less than 45 minutes.

    In terms of eating, in my practice our rule is simple. You should eat the smallest number of calories you need to be happy, and because each and every day's different, that number may well vary each and every day.

  6. One of the things that drives me crazy is that the average exercise machine calculates how many calories the mythical average man will burn. Which means that as a woman measuring 4'8", the only thing that I know is that no matter how hard I work, I will only burn a fraction of the calories that the machine is telling me I've burnt.