Surprising Things That Burn Calories

As an OB/GYN, probably one of the most common questions I get from patients each day is, how can I burn more calories? Every woman seems concerned with getting more steps and more calories burned. But here's the lovely secret: every minute of every day, your body burns calories doing anything and everything. While the rate that you burn calories varies by your age, weight, sex and activity level, your body requires a certain number of calories daily to maintain your bodily functions — like just existing. This is your basal metabolic rate (BMR).


With the fitness tracker and heart rate monitor (i.e. Fitbit) craze underway, most women are eerily conscious of their steps, but how do you judge what kind of calories you're burning just from life? Aside from killing yourself in an Orange Theory class, here are some surprising ways you burn some extra calories throughout your day.


Raise your fidgeting hands... how many of your are chronic fidgeters? Well, congratulations. While tapping your fingers on the desk or wiggling your foot during a meeting, your body is constantly moving. And moving equals calorie burn! It's entirely possible you could burn up to 350 extra calories per day with the extra activity, thanks to information studied at Iowa State University. If you were to sit while fidgeting all day, you could burn about 600 more calories than if you sat motionless all day. Standing and fidgeting increases that calorie burn to nearly 950 calories more than remaining motionless. So wiggle that foot, shake that knee and tap those phalanges. Fidgeters rule!



When you're in the midst of a heart-breaking sob, it feels like every ounce of your body is involved. During emotionally stressful moments, it is not uncommon for a person's heart rate to elevate. So coming back to the real question, does crying burn calories? The answer is surprisingly yes, regardless of the way that you might cry. By extrapolation, crying is thought to burn the same amount of calories that laughing does, or about 1.3 calories per minute (there's been no actual medical studies on the calorie burning power of a good sob). And there is something true to the excessive "ugly" cry compared to the soft "Jane Austen" version.


Just to compare, CrossFit burns about 10 calories per minute. But hey, who wants to pump iron when they've been dumped? Cry it out, ladies. And whatever has made you tremendously sad, the consolation is at least you've shredded a small amount of calories to make up for that medicinal ice cream.


Yes! Laughter gives the body a "mini aerobic workout." It causes the heart to beat faster, sending larger amounts of blood around the body. Laughing burns calories by causing your heart rate to rise by 10 to 20 percent. As your heart rate rises from fits of giggles, your metabolism increases as well, which means you'll continue to burn calories once you stop guffawing. It's the ultimate cardio!


Research conducted by Vanderbilt University Medical Center revealed that laughing for ten to 15 minutes burns between ten and 40 calories.That's enough to shift between one and 4 pounds per year. Laughing intensely for an hour can burn as many calories as lifting weight for 30 minutes, those same scientists have found. So, laugh... a lot!


Ever wonder what kind of workout you get between the sheets? Researchers from the University of Montreal discovered the precise number of calories we burn during the "deed": men burn 100 calories in the average sex session, while women expend 69. (I swear I didn't make that up). That is per HOUR of romping, while the average start-to-finish time for most action is a mere 25 minutes.


To make it easier, the next time you engage in some bed play, multiply the time in minutes by 4.2 (for men) or 3.1 (for women). The more time you spend between the sheets in active "play", the more calories burned. And in case you're wondering how the researchers discovered this scientific data, it involved all sorts of sadistic-looking lab equipment. Hint: your fitness tracker can give you the same data at home, too, without the embarrassing laboratory audience.


Chewing, my dears! The act of masticating — aka chewing — involves serious jaw muscles to perform. That act, along with swallowing and digesting, burns about 140 calories per hour.

Certain foods are known for their calorie burning. One, in particular, can literally burn. Research shows that the capsaicin in chili peppers can boost your metabolic rate, causing the body to potentially torch 50-100 more calories a day. Research conducted at the Mayo Clinic and published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that chewing gum burns about 11 calories an hour. That's about 20 percent more than you would burn by just sitting on your bum in a chair for that same time period.



Haven't you ever come back exhausted from a great shopping excursion? Think of this: the more you buy, the more you have to carry — and that burns extra calories. According to the University of Hawaii Nutrition Department, walking through the store at a leisurely 2 mph burns around 200 calories per hour for a 150-pound person. A power shopper will burn even more calories.


Keep in mind that it's difficult to consistently walk during your shopping trip — but luckily standing in line for 30 minutes (though seriously, who's going to do that?) burns about 47 calories. And putting away all of those packages burns a more impressive 179 calories per hour. Head to the mall and feel guilty no more! Just stay away from the food court to avoid adding those calories back in.


Drink up! When it comes to drinking, the colder, the better. According to this study, drinking eight pints of ice water a day will cause your body to expend almost 125 calories of metabolic heat to warm that water to body temperature (by the way, that's a full gallon of water!)


On the opposite spectrum, drinking can actually add calories if you're imbibing the wrong drinks. In other words, don't just drink a frozen margarita because you believe it burns more calories because your body has to warm it up.


Oh, glorious playtime! I find that my patients have the hardest time working this calorie burner into their day. But it does burn calories and, better yet, it's fun! 

According to an article published by Harvard Medical School, watching TV or reading burns around 35 calories per hour; and doing Sudoku, or anything that requires heavy concentration or brain activity, takes the total to 110 calories per hour. 


The Harvard article notes that taking the play outside revs up the metabolism even more — playing with the kids for 20 minutes burns a whopping 78 calories and adding a game of hopscotch or dodgeball increases to 210 calories per hour. If jumping around post babies isn't your game, then just walking while pushing a stroller for 30 minutes burns nearly 150 calories per hour. 

Add some Just Dance Now or turning on Pandora Disco radio and shaking your booty burns a whopping 200 calories per hour. Playing gives you family memories and, frankly, it's just plain fun. Who couldn't use some more of that in their life?


Ah, one of my favorite "exercises." Yes, you even burn calories when you are snoozing! Your body is actually performing a host of duties while in golden slumber — repairing cells, renewing tissue and cleaning toxins. Most of my patients don't get enough sleep and I routinely recommend a full eight hours of shuteye per night. Just think, ladies, while just laying there on your Tempurpedic, you still burn about 63 calories per hour. An 8-hour overnight sleep burns a whopping 500 calories! But if a siesta is more your style, according to the Harvard Health chart, a 185-pound person burns 28 calories in 30 minutes. Wow, it might be time for me to take a short nap.


Burn, baby burn!

See a trend here, ladies? Living a full life does burn extra calories. Book a great date night with your partner — in theory a night of talking, dancing, eating, drinking, a little sex, followed by 8 hours of shuteye could expend nearly a thousand calories! Whoa, fun is the ultimate calorie burn?


Check out the Harvard Health School for more calorie-driven data. There, researchers have listed hundreds of other activities and their calorie burning potential (including such cool exercises as gardening, archery and hang gliding).