Healthy Habit #5: Incorporate the ultimate calorie-burning exercise into your routine

workoutEditor’s note: If you’ve been following this series of posts on healthy habits (and based on the analytics, you haven’t!), you know I said I would share 8 Healthy Habits and all of them before I left for the MS 150 today. Well, I blew it. I’m going to stop at 5, but I promise to make this a good one.

Believe it or not, I’m a bit of a cynic. I try to keep negativity out of my social media realm, but trust me, I can be as dark as anyone. I’m yet to find a food I crave that is really good for me. I haven’t made a single investment that didn’t cause at least a little bit of heartache. And I absolutely thought the best workouts to cut weight were the ones that left me collapsed in a pool of sweat with every inch of my body screaming in pain.


Remember that handy-dandy MyFitnessPal app I’ve talked about over and over again? Along with a great library of foods to record, it has a fantastic breakdown of exercises. And unlike the often depressing reality that food presents with calories spent, the exercise library shows you calories earned! You could spend hours working through different exercise formulas to see which are the most effective calorie burners. Or, you could just keep reading for the next five minutes because I did it for you.

My results are specific to my age, sex, weight, height, etc., so yours will look different then mine, but here is a breakdown of what I discovered about some popular calorie-burning exercises.

Weightlifting: Modern theory indicates that a weightlifting program is good for weight control mainly because of the after-burn effect. In other words, weightlifting keeps your metabolism up for 48 hours after your workout whereas cardiovascular work only keeps the metabolism burning for 30-60 minutes afterwards. However, I only burn about 300 calories in an hour of weightlifting, and I rarely go that long. I do lift weights three times per week because weightlifting has all kinds of important health benefits, but as far as a calorie burner, I’ve never found it very effective.

Swimming: Generally revered as one of the best exercises you can do, swimming is easy on the bones and joints, works the entire body, and is probably good preparation for surviving the rising oceans that will eventually swallow us all. However, I find swimming to be tedious so you won’t catch me in the pool too often. Besides, at my pace, swimming for an hour is only good for a 645 calorie burn. I’m out.

Indoor Cycling: One of my favorites! Easy on the body, fun with a group of people and being that I’m often doing it as the instructor, I get to pick the playlist. However, even though you can work up a really good sweat on the indoor bike, it’s not a great calorie burner. In one hour, I only burn 652 calories, or just under what I might spend on a decent lunch. Damn! I teach five times a week so I don’t think I’ll eliminate this any time soon, but I’m also not going to wolf down a 1,000 calorie meal after a class thinking I earned that feast.

Elliptical Trainer: I used to feel like such a bum if this was the best cardio I could do for my workout, but surprisingly, it burned more calories than I thought. This is certainly something I can do for an hour, though I’m more likely to use it for a 30 minute warm-up before lifting. I think MyFitnessPal is a bit too generous on this one and they don’t have a setting to determine speed or difficulty, so I’ll generally use the computer on the elliptical instead. But I can burn 722 calories in one hour on level 12 at a 120-140 step-per-minute pace. Not bad!

So that brings us to running and outdoor cycling. One sport that I absolutely love, the other I hate. And let’s remember the golden rule of cynicism: whatever is good for you has to inherently suck.

So which was the best?

Running: This was my guess because I associate perceived effort with calorie burn. It’s hard for me to run. I’ve been doing it for 25 years, but I’ve never been fast and my body ALWAYS hurts when it’s over. To my way of thinking, it had to burn the most calories.

Well, results on running vary based on whether or not you believe speed counts. According to my app, f I could run a 10 mph pace for one hour, I’d burn a whopping 1,492 calories. However, I don’t come close to that pace. Most of my runs are in the 6-6.7 mph range and generally for only 30 minutes, meaning I burn between 466-492 calories during a three-mile run. Whoa! Not very impressive for an exercise I don’t enjoy. From a calorie burning standpoint, it wouldn’t be the worst idea for me to drop it if I can’t run any faster or longer than this. I won’t because I just feel like I should be able to run about three miles now and again. I have no idea why.

That just leaves…

Outdoor cycling: I think everyone who has read to this point knows how much I love cycling. I love doing charity rides, love the camaraderie, and unlike most of these other exercises, I can go way over an hour per session and can carry a 17 mph to 19 mph pace. My body feels great afterward and because it’s easy on the joints I could do it for the next forty years without much trouble.

Again, my cynical self would never dream that my favorite exercise that I have the most ability in would be the best calorie burner,


a 95-minute, 30 mile ride at 17-18 mph burns a staggering 1,771 calories or 1,119 calories an hour! When I do a 62-mile charity ride I burn around 4,200 calories. This weekend at the MS 150, I should burn almost 8,400 calories. That’s three days worth of calories for me.


How can this be?  According to a study done by fitness expert Dr. Edward Coyle at The University of Texas in Austin, the element of wind resistance plays a major role in accelerating the calorie burn in cycling. If you care to read a summary of the study, you can do so here. However, I can confirm that on days that I cycle outdoors, my calorie burn is gigantic. It’s gotten to the point that I will drop 2-3 pounds over a weekend that features 70-100 miles of cycling while losing almost nothing during a week of indoor exercises.

So there you go. Meat lover’s pizza still makes me fat and my can’t miss stocks will still flirt with bankruptcy. But my favorite exercise will keep my thin and healthy for the rest of my life.

Thanks for reading.

This is the sixth and final post in a series of stories I wrote about healthy living as I prepared for my first 150-mile fundraising bike ride in support of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. To learn more about the ride or support my fundraising effort with a donation, click here

About Matt DeMargel

Public Relations Flack, Health-Conscious Cyclist, Personal Finance Nerd, Global Wanderer and slightly deranged fan of St. Louis and Mizzou Sports. I only write when I have something to say, but I talk constantly!
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