If you sit most of the day or do very little physical activity, you might be wondering how to determine your calories burned when sedentary. Although the amounts vary by person, there are online calculators and equations you can reference to help you figure out the number of calories you burn.
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To determine the number of calories a sedentary person burns each day, use an online calculator or an equation like the Harris-Benedict equation. Results will depend on the information you enter.
How to Determine Calories Burned
Before you can determine the calories burned when sedentary, you need to understand what it means to be sedentary. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute defines sedentary as light, physical activity associated with daily life.
You can find an approximate number of calories burned based on determining the calories you need each day for calorie balance. While not an exact figure, it can be a good indicator of daily calories burned. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, a 26- to 40-year-old sedentary male needs about 2,400 calories a day. A sedentary woman, ages 26 to 50, needs approximately 1,800 calories a day.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) says you can determine the number of calories you burn in a day by using the total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) calculation. This calculation is based on your resting metabolic rate (RMR), the thermic effect of food (TEF), non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) and exercise.
If all that sounds really complicated to you, don't worry; you're not alone. The good news? You don't have to memorize all of those acronyms and what they mean. As long as you have a general idea of how your body burns calories at rest and during activity, you can let one of the online calculators or equations do the work for you.
Calories Burned Calculators and Equations
There are several online RMR calculators that will determine your calories burned based on an equation. They ask you to plug in some basic information like gender, age, height and weight, then, the calculator does the math for you.
But if you're curious about the equations, you can work the numbers through the Harris-Benedict equation, the Mifflin-St Jeor formula, or the Katch-McArdle or Cunningham RMR equation, according to ACE.
For example, the Harris-Benedict equation asks for your weight in kilograms, height in centimeters and age in years. Then you use the equation to calculate your RMR. The Mifflin-St Jeor equation also uses weight in kilograms, height in centimeters and age in years. To determine your figures, if you are a male, use the following equation:
- 9.99 x weight + 6.25 x height - 4.92 x age + 5
If you're a female, follow this equation:
- 9.99 x weight + 6.25 x height - 4.92 x age -161
Burning Calories With Exercise
Once you determine the number of calories you burn each day without exercise, it's time to get active and increase your daily burn.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of calories you burn at a moderate activity level, such as walking, ranges from 3.5 to 7 calories per minute. For example, if you walk for 20 minutes, you can expect to burn approximately 70 to 140 calories.
Increase the intensity to a vigorous level, such as running, and you bump the burn up to more than 7 calories per minute. So, for a 20-minute run, you can expect to burn approximately 140 calories and up.
Additionally, charts such as the one from Harvard Health Publishing, detail several activities by weight and duration of exercise. According to their table, a 185-pound person can burn 266 calories in a 30-minute session of jogging at a moderate pace. That same person can burn about 222 calories walking at a moderate to vigorous pace for 30 minutes.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "General Physical Activities Defined by Level of Intensity"
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Balance Food and Activity"
- American Council on Exercise: "Resting Metabolic Rate: Best Ways to Measure It—And Raise It, Too"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"
- Office of Disease Prevention and Promotion: "Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level"