Exercise? Count on It
By Buzz McClain
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, January 6, 2004; Page HE01
Suppose there was a way to avoid all the bother involved in finding the time and the will to exercise. And imagine it required nothing more than toting up the calories spent in normal everyday activities and ensuring that they matched or exceeded the calories coming in. How many people out there would take that route instead of hitting the health club, pounding the pavement or grunting in front of the latest Pilates polka video? Let's see a show of hands. I thought so.
Could it be done? I set out to see.
As an experiment, I resolved to do nothing that smacked of purposeful exercise for nine days. That's right, Richard Simmons, nothing. No power walking, no getting friendly with a Nautilus machine, no yoga-robics, no daily workout besides the motion of normal activities. I decided to keep the exercise -- I mean, the calculation -- simple: Forget about fat calories, metabolic rates and all that; this was just subtracting the in from the out. There would be no dietary modification, either; my regular fare would suffice. The test, I thought -- somewhat wrongly, but more about that later -- would be to see whether balancing the input and the output would keep my weight constant. I'd prove that the power of arithmetic could overcome the problem of exercise!
The staying-still was going to be pretty easy, I figured: We're between rugby seasons, so my serious sports training is over with until spring. I have a tear in my right triceps, so weight lifting is on hold. There's no way I'm going jogging in winter; it's nasty out there. And don't remind me about the treadmill in the basement; that's for my wife, thank you.
So for nine days I tracked every morsel I consumed, my burn-off of nearly every calorie (okay, I didn't record bathroom breaks; some things remain sacred) -- and then, at the end of the day, I subtracted my caloric intake from my burn-off, or vice versa, depending on which was greater.
My three main tools were my bathroom scale (a genuine doctor's office variety called a Healthometer), a food scale for the kitchen and www.caloriesperhour.com, a Web site that calculates how many calories you can burn with virtually any activity a human is likely to engage in. Tell the site your height, weight, age and sex, and for any given activity it will spit out the approximate number of calories expended. For the record, I'm 6 feet tall and 48 years old and on the first day of the experiment I weighed 197 pounds.
It was (sort of) fascinating to keep a running journal of my every waking minute, and also difficult: If you don't jot down what you do or consume right away, the memory begins to fade. I probably burned a lot of uncounted calories just keeping notes like "walk to Subway (100 yards), dodge car (three seconds), get ham and turkey sub (no mayo), Baked (not fried) Lays."
Over the course of the experiment, my daily average of 7.5 hours of sleep -- which burned 590 calories -- was usually followed by a morning routine of reading the paper in bed (52 calories in 35 minutes), showering (21 calories in seven minutes), shaving (12 calories in four minutes), grooming (12 calories), dressing (22 calories in five minutes) and walking through the house picking up stuff (eight calories in two minutes).
That's a total of 717 calories out.
Two cups of black coffee gave me 14 calories, and my toasted mini-bagel with an ounce of cream cheese added 170 calories.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
As an experiment, one author resolved to do nothing that smacked of purposeful exercise for nine days. Here are his results.