Check the internet and you'll find many charts that calculate calories consumed by all kinds of activities from running to house cleaning. The end result, obviously, is if you burn more calories than you ingest, you'll lose weight, and vice-versa. This echoes the recent column by Fran Scott where she gave a more scientific explanation. But all trendy diets aside, the bottom (ha!) line is that if you eat more than you burn, your pants size will grow. And carbs or no carbs, I suppose it's theoretically possible to gain weight eating just carrots and broccoli. After all, hippos and elephants get pretty big just by eating their veggies.
I bring this up with a focus on the high level of calories consumed by running. Those internet calorie calculators vary somewhat, but I checked several of them to see what my typical morning exercise activities consume in calories, and made some rough comparisons. On a normal weekday, I have about 45 minutes to devote to some form of exercise before I shower, shave and head to the train. What calories are burned by cycling, walking or running in that time?
In 45 minutes riding my bike at an average of maybe 13 miles per hour I can cover about 9 to 10 miles, burning somewhere around 400 calories (or 40 per mile) according to the charts. On a quick walk I'll go 3 miles at about 15 minutes a mile, for a total of 225 calories (75 per mile). But running 5 miles at a little over 8 minutes per mile will burn off 500 to 600 calories. So even if those charts vary in accuracy, the message is clear ?#34; running is the champion calorie burning activity for anybody who is on a time schedule. And that's why my weight went up during the months I was off running due to knee problems (and I should note that my appetite stayed much the same).
Fast walking isn't too bad for calories consumed per mile, but you can go a helluva lot farther in the same time by running. Biking certainly covers more real estate in the same time, but the calorie burning is less per mile. Obviously Lance Armstrong looks pretty lean and fit, but most of us don't have time to ride 100 miles a day (and my butt's not that strong). So the clear winner is running.
However, some new runners have found it hard to lose weight, thinking all they have to do is start running and the pounds will quickly melt away. Unfortunately, it's not quite that easy, and it takes some patience. Initially, some may actually gain a few pounds as their bodies convert fat tissue to muscle, which is heavier and more dense (that's a good thing). But by hanging in there and working up to about 25 to 30 miles a week, the effort should pay off. Ultimately, building up the ability to run easily for 90 minutes or more will really burn some serious calories. The experts also say that cranking up your metabolism through a more vigorous lifestyle tends to consume more calories even when you're not exercising.
Since being on "injured reserve" status, the thing I missed the most was the Oak Park Runners Club's Saturday morning fun runs. On those casual weekly runs I'd go about 12 miles at a fairly comfortable pace, burning up loads of calories while building strength and endurance. For years my weight stayed pretty close to where it had been since college. And with that base I could race anything up to a half marathon without much extra preparation. But during the long layoff from active running, the calorie accumulation was evident.
I'm starting to work back to those good Saturday morning runs.
Paul Oppenheim is a member of the Oak Park Runners Club.