Fitness class

Don’t believe everything you hear — or even everything you see!

I am talking about those “calorie burn” reports on fitness trackers, or even people who tell you that you can burn 1,000 calories in a class.

Probably not even close.

According to Gina Mabrey, department head of kinesiology at Jacksonville State University, that is not impossible, but the level of effort to burn 1,000 calories in an hour is equivalent to running a 5-minute mile for one hour!

Take that in for a moment. Go ahead, give it a try.

The record for the fastest mile is held by a Moroccan athlete who did so in 3:43.13 in 1999. But you can be sure he didn’t keep that up for an hour. He kept it up for 3 minutes and 43 seconds. Usain Bolt the sprinter cannot even run that fast.

The average runner runs between 7- and 10-minute miles. Very few average fitness enthusiasts are going to be able to keep up the kind a pace needed to produce that exorbitant calorie burn in one hour.

According to Dr. Mabrey, calorie burn depends on a person’s body composition, gender, age and level of fitness. The more weight you carry, the more effort it takes to carry it, so more calories are expended.

There is also a direct correlation of calorie expenditure to oxygen consumption. The more fit you are, the better you utilize oxygen.

And, of course, us wannabe athletes over age 50 are not going to be able to sustain the effort that we might have at age 25, so our calorie burn will be lower.

I am not saying we cannot still kick a little butt over 50. We certainly can. In many ways, I am stronger than I was at 25. But let’s not fool ourselves. We cannot keep up with our younger counterparts for the most part. Remember how easy it was to stay thin when you were 25? Not so as we age, for this reason and a few others.    

There are just so many myths about calorie burn. I even saw an internet post that said you can burn 67 calories farting! (According to Snopes, this is not true. Although if that were the case, I know a few folks who shall remain nameless who must be burning a load of calories.)

Calorie myths carry over to treadmills and the like, too. Most pieces of equipment are based on a 150-pound person. I would take that number and plus or minus it 10 or 20 percent.

Dr. Mabrey also said that people often underestimate how many calories they consume and overestimate how much output they have completed to burn the calories. That’s where the problem lies.

Years ago, I went to a fitness class in Jacksonville while I was getting my Exercise Science degree, and the instructor told me we would probably burn 1,000 calories in that class.

I was older than most of my counterparts in the class, and as an instructor of 20 years at that time, I knew a little about this subject. That instructor had no idea that that she may have given people carte blanche to go out and eat like crazy, believing they had just burned 1,000 calories.

While this is not an earth-shattering problem, we should always be honest about this as fitness professionals. I suspect she just did not know any better, and probably heard that from someone else and believed it.

When I am asked about calorie burn I say, it depends. Because it does depend. On your weight, your age, your gender, your fitness level and how efficiently you utilize oxygen.

Fitness trackers hopefully will be able to more honestly convey this info in the future, because I think they are an important tool in our industry. They really inspire people to do more and help them reach their goals.

Just don’t believe everything you see. Not yet anyway.

Ann Angell is a certified instructor and personal trainer and  manager of the Oxford YMCA. Her fitness column appears the third Sunday of each month.

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