What’s the best way to burn the most calories?
There’s a lot that goes into developing an exercise regimen — meeting your body’s needs, finding something you enjoy, and figuring out what will have enough impact to make a difference to your health.
If you’re crunched for time, one of the ways to measure that is to figure out how much energy a particular exercise expends in the time you actually do it. In other words, how many calories does it burn?
The big, important caveats here are that exercising on its own actually 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 working on cutting sugar and large portions out of your diet.
Still, calories burned per hour is a good measure of how intense a particular exercise is. The Mayo Clinic, drawing on research published by the National Institutes of Health, lists 36 popular forms of exercise by their caloric impacts. We’ve ordered them from least to most intense, with approximate calories burned per hour for a 200-pound person listed for each activity. (An average adult American weighs just under 200 pounds.) Of course exact figures will vary across body types, gender, age, and other factors.
Keep in mind that the numbers here are approximate. Also, just because an exercise burns calories faster doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best option. The most important exercise is the one you enjoy enough to get up and do regularly.
36. Hatha yoga | 228 calories/hour
Hatha yoga, a version of the exercise practice centered on holding specific poses, sits at the bottom of this list, burning an average of about 228 calories per hour in a 200-pound person.
35. A slow walk | 255 calories/hour
Next up: going for a stroll. For every hour walked at 2 mph, a 200-pound person burns 255 calories.
32. Bowling | 273 calories/hour
Bowling, along with the next two items on this list, ballroom dancing and Tai Chi, burns 273 calories per active hour.
32. Ballroom dancing | 273 calories/hour
32. Tai Chi | 273 calories/hour
Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art and form of exercise, often practiced with slow, deliberate movements.
31. Canoeing | 319 calories/hour
Next up: canoeing. A leisurely paddle down a river will burn 319 calories in an hour for a 200-pound person.
28. Slow, easy cycling | 364 calories/hour
Leisure cycling, defined as a pace under 10 mph, burns about 364 calories per hour in a 200-pound person. The same is true for a typical (though probably not Olympic) game of volleyball, or the movement-based, intensive “power” yoga.
28. Volleyball | 364 calories/hour
28. Power yoga | 364 calories/hour
Power yoga, or vinyasa, is a more movement-centered exercise practice than hatha. This article includes more information about the different kinds of yoga and how beginners can get started.
25. Golfing (and carrying your clubs) | 391 calories/hour
If you golf, carry your own clubs around the course, and if you weigh 200 pounds you can expect to burn 391 calories per hour. The same is true of typical downhill skiing and a 3.5-mph walk.
25. Downhill skiing | 391 calories/hour
25. A brisk walk | 391 calories/hour
21. Low-impact aerobics | 455 calories/hour
Low-impact aerobics burn about 455 calories per hour in a 200-pound person. The same is true of a moderate workout on an elliptical machine, weight/resistance training, and softball and baseball.
21. ‘Running’ on a cross-trainer | 455 calories/hour
21. Resistance training/weightlifting | 455 calories/hour
21. Baseball/softball | 455 calories/hour
20. Water aerobics | 501 calories/hour
Edging out the first major sport on this list: water aerobics. The pool exercise can burn as many as 501 calories per hour in a 200-pound person.
19. Light or moderate lap swimming | 528 calories/hour
Swim light or moderate laps in a pool, and a 200-pound person can burn 528 calories per hour.
16. Hiking | 546 calories/hour
Hiking, stationary rowing, and water skiing all burn about 546 calories per hour in a 200 pound person.
16. Rowing on a machine | 546 calories/hour
16. Water skiing | 546 calories/hour
15. Cross-country skiing | 619 calories/hour
Cross-country skiing is even more rigorous, burning 619 calories per hour in a 200-pound person.
12. Backpacking | 637 calories/hour
Want to burn even more? Go backpacking. Like ice skating and racquetball, a 200-pound person will use about 637 calories per hour on a hike with a heavy backpack.
12. Ice skating | 637 calories/hour
12. Racquetball | 637 calories/hour
11. High-impact aerobics | 664 calories/hour
High-impact aerobics can use 664 calories per hour.
10. Rollerblading | 683 calories/hour
Rollerblading is intense, burning 683 calories per hour.
7. A game of basketball | 728 calories/hour
A basketball game, touch or flag football, and singles tennis all offer great exercise, burning about 728 calories per hour in a 200-pound person.
7. Flag football | 728 calories/hour
7. Tennis, singles | 728 calories/hour
6. Running 5 mph | 755 calories/hour
A moderate 5-mph run will burn about 755 calories per hour in a 200-pound person.
5. Running up stairs | 819 calories/hour
Run up a StairMaster (or up a particularly long flight of stairs), and a 200-pound person will burn 819 calories per hour.
4. Vigorous swimming | 892 calories/hour
“Vigorous” swimming is even better, churning through 892 calories per hour.
3. Taekwondo | 937 calories/hour
Taekwondo is the most intense competitive sport on this list, burning 937 calories per hour in a 200-pound person.
1. Skipping rope | 1,074 calories/hour
At the top of the list, though, are two very simple activities: skipping rope and running fast (8 mph to be precise). Do either of those things for an hour, and a 200-pound person will burn 1,074 calories.
1. Running, 8 mph | 1,074 calories/hour
What about other popular workouts?
A number of popular workouts didn’t make this list. Here’s why: In order to make sure we were comparing apples to apples in making this ranking, we exclusively used data from a single, sweeping review of exercise science.
There simply isn’t a dataset more thorough or well-grounded out there, and we didn’t want to muddle this one up by introducing numbers obtained using different methods, from branded advertising or without exact comparisons.
That said, it’s worth keeping in mind that there are plenty of ways people love to exercise that aren’t among these 36. Here are a few, along with the calories per hour counts that have been attributed to them.
Take these numbers with a grain or two of salt, especially when comparing their numbers with numbers from the peer-reviewed comparative research.
SoulCycle/Spinning: The stationary-bike-class company has its issues, but reports that its attendees can expect to burn 500 to 700 calories in a session. This tracks closely with other data on stationary cycling.
Pilates: We found only one 2005 publication offering anything like science on the calorie efficiency of pilates (though it appears to have been published without normal peer review). It claims pilates burns 4.0 to 7.5 calories per minute. Assuming this translates over longer time spans, that’s about 240 to 450 calories per hour.
Zumba: A Zumba-funded study conducted on young, healthy women found that a single 39 minute Zumba class burns an average of about 360 calories.
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