Winter calories


1. It’s a dieter’s dilemma, because people just want to stay inside and keep warm


2. It’s a major calorie burning opportunity, thanks to all the winter-specific outdoor sports and activities.

Outdoor winter activities are some of the biggest calorie burners known to humans.  The activities are strenuous, and there’s the added effect of burning calories to stay warm.

The calorie burning effect of activities can be calculated fairly accurately using what are called METs, or Metabolic Equivalent of Task numbers.  The energy cost of dozens of activities have been measured, and MET numbers are assigned to each activity.  The numbers range from 0.9 for sleeping to 23 for running at a 4-minute-mile pace (NOTE: that’s a world champion pace).  You can get an idea of how many calories you burn for a given activity by plugging your values into an MET calculator.   For example, a 180 lb man doing an hour and a half of moderate speed (5 mph) cross country skiing would burn about 1200 calories.  That’s impressive!  By comparison, if he spent that 1-1/2 hours watching TV, he’d burn a pitiful 129 calories.

Here are some comparisons of the MET calorie burning potential of various winter sports and activities:

activity                           MET
Backcountry nordic skiing          15.5
Cross country ski racing           15
Competitive speed skating          13-14
Vigorous cross country skiing      12.5
Snow shoeing vigorous effort       10
Strenuous downhill skiing           8
slower easy cross country skiing   7-9
vigorous snow shoveling            7.5
ice skating                         7
moderate effort downhill skiing     7
Sledding and tobogganing            7
Snow shoveling, moderate effort     5.3
Snow shoeing, easy effort           5
pushing a show blower               2.5
riding on a snowmobile              2
ice fishing                         2
sitting at home                     1

MET calculations are approximations, and depend on your interpretation of “vigorous” or “moderate”.  In general, highly trained competitive athletes would use “vigorous” MET values.  But clearly, even moderate effort winter activities burn more calories per minute than sedentary indoor activities.  So embrace winter, and use it as an opportunity to burn off a few more calories, instead of as the reason your diet stalled out.

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