There are a lot of great reasons to exercise. But one of the most basic goals is to burn calories.
So what's the best way to do that?
Really, you should pick something you like enough to do regularly over time. But if you are deciding between a few different activities, you could pick the one that burns the most energy.
The Mayo Clinic, drawing on research published by the National Institutes of Health, ranks 36 popular forms of exercise based on their caloric impacts. We've ordered them from least to most intense, and listed the approximate calories burned in an hour for a 160- and a 200-pound person (in that order). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American women weigh 168.5 pounds on average, compared with 195.7 pounds for the average American man.
We also calculated the values for several other sports, including soccer, rock climbing, and kayaking, based on NIH data, and included stats for a few other popular activities as well.
It's worth noting, though, that all of these activities can be conducted at varying intensities, which means exact figures will vary based on energy input, body type, gender, age, and other factors. Additionally, exercise on its own doesn't do much to make you lose weight. If you want to slim down, we suggest talking to a doctor about what a healthy weight is for you and cutting down on sugar and large portions.
39. Hatha yoga: 183 calories/hour | 228 calories/hour
Hatha yoga, a version of the practice centered on specific poses and mental exercises, sits at the bottom of this list, burning an average of about 183 calories an hour in a 160-pound person.
38. A slow walk (2 mph): 204 calories/hour | 255 calories/hour
35. Bowling: 219 calories/hour | 273 calories/hour
Bowling can help you burn a few hundred calories an hour, but the alley snacks may counteract that.
35. Ballroom dancing: 219 calories/hour | 273 calories/hour
35. Tai Chi: 219 calories/hour | 273 calories/hour
Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art and form of exercise often practiced with slow, deliberate movements.
34. Canoeing: 256 calories/hour | 319 calories/hour
31. Slow, easy cycling (under 10 mph): 292 calories/hour | 364 calories/hour
31. Volleyball: 292 calories/hour | 364 calories/hour
Beach volleyball, on the other hand, burns about twice as many calories.
31. Power yoga: 292 calories/hour | 364 calories/hour
Power yoga, or vinyasa, is a more movement-centered exercise practice than hatha. More information about the different kinds of yoga and how beginners can get started can be found here.
28. Golfing (and carrying your clubs): 314 calories/hour | 391 calories/hour
If you golf, carrying your own clubs around the course makes a big difference. The calories a 200-pound person can expect to burn in an hour are roughly equal to the amount of time spent downhill skiing or taking a 3-1/2-mph walk.
28. Casual downhill skiing or snowboarding: 314 calories/hour | 391 calories/hour
At moderate and more vigorous levels of intensity, these activities can burn twice as many calories.
28. A brisk walk (3.5 mph): 314 calories/hour | 391 calories/hour
23. Low-impact aerobics: 365 calories/hour | 455 calories/hour
Low-impact aerobics burn about about as many calories as the next batch of activities on this list: a moderate workout on an elliptical machine, weight training, kayaking, softball, and baseball.
23. 'Jogging' on the elliptical: 365 calories/hour | 455 calories/hour
23. Resistance training/weightlifting: 365 calories/hour | 455 calories/hour
23. Kayaking: 365 calories/hour | 455 calories/hour
23. Baseball/softball: 365 calories/hour | 455 calories/hour
22. Water aerobics: 402 calories/hour | 501 calories/hour
21. Light or moderate lap swimming: 423 calories/hour | 528 calories/hour
Swimming is a sport in which intensity can vary widely, however.
18. Hiking: 438 calories/hour | 546 calories/hour
Hiking burns about the same number of calories in an hour as stationary rowing and water skiing.
18. Rowing on a machine (at moderate intensity): 438 calories/hour | 546 calories/hour
18. Water skiing: 438 calories/hour | 546 calories/hour
The same is true for wakeboarding.
17. Slow cross-country skiing (2 1/2 mph): 496 calories/hour | 619 calories/hour
Cross-country skiing is one of the most intense sports out there.
14. Backpacking: 511 calories/hour | 637 calories/hour
14. Ice skating: 511 calories/hour | 637 calories/hour
Doing stunts will probably help you burn extra.
14. Racquetball: 511 calories/hour | 637 calories/hour
13. High-impact aerobics: 533 calories/hour | 664 calories/hour
12. Rollerblading: 548 calories/hour | 683 calories/hour
This calculation is for "recreational" rollerblading, though athletes traveling at top speeds will burn even more calories.
8. A game of basketball: 584 calories/hour | 728 calories/hour
A basketball game, touch or flag football, rock climbing, and singles tennis all offer great exercise, burning about 728 calories an hour in a 200-pound person.
8. Flag football: 584 calories/hour | 728 calories/hour
8. Rock or mountain climbing: 584 calories/hour | 728 calories/hour
8. Tennis, singles: 584 calories/hour | 728 calories/hour
7. Running (5 mph): 606 calories/hour | 755 calories/hour
At this pace, you'd be running 12-minute miles.
6. Running up stairs: 657 calories/hour | 819 calories/hour
A StairMaster (or a particularly long flight of stairs) can give you a great workout.
5. Vigorous lap-swimming: 715 calories/hour | 892 calories/hour
3. Taekwondo: 752 calories/hour | 937 calories/hour
Taekwondo is an intense competitive sport, though the same calorie-burning applies to other martial arts like Muay Thai, jujitsu, and karate.
3. Soccer: 752 calories/hour | 937 calories/hour
1. Jump rope: 861 calories/hour | 1,074 calories/hour
At the top of this list are two very simple activities: jumping rope and running fast.
1. Running, 8 mph: 861 calories/hour | 1,074 calories/hour
At this pace, you'd run a mile in 7 minutes, 30 seconds.
What about other popular workouts?
It's impossible to include everything on this list -- especially since certain activities haven't been validated by the dataset used for this sweeping review.
But here are some rough calorie numbers for a few other ways people love to exercise:
SoulCycle/Spinning: Attendees of the stationary-bike fitness classes can expect to burn 500 to 700 calories in an hour. This tracks closely with other data on stationary cycling.
Pilates: Pilates burns about as many calories as bowling or ballroom dancing -- 219 calories an hour for a 160-pound person or 273 calories an hour for a 200-pound person.
Zumba: A Zumba-funded study conducted on young, healthy women found that a 39-minute Zumba class burns an average of about 360 calories.
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