For those seeking to reach a healthy weight, the idea of weight loss can be intimidating. Taken in small steps, however, it doesn’t need to be. One pound equates to 3,500 calories. This means that to lose one pound a week, you need to burn 500 more calories each day than you take in (500 calories a day x seven days a week = 3,500 calories a week).1
This 500-calorie difference, known in the fitness world as an “energy deficit,” can come from changes in either diet or exercise habits. Eating 500 fewer calories per day, burning an extra 500 calories per day or any combination of the two will result in the 3,500 calorie per week energy deficit needed to lose one pound.
One pound a week may not sound like much. Yet in a single year, that adds up to fifty-two pounds. An added benefit is that individuals who lose weight slowly, dropping between half a pound and two pounds a week, are significantly more likely to keep the weight off than individuals who lose weight at a faster rate. The National Institute of Health recommends losing no more than 1–2 lbs. per week and reports that greater weekly losses show no improvement in long-term results.2 Losing slowly allows you the chance to establish healthy habits that you can maintain for life.
In the context of the EMS world, burning 500 calories per day through exercise may seem like a challenge. Days are busy, down time is often filled with station chores and going to the gym following a long shift is frequently unappealing and unlikely. Fortunately, focused exercise isn’t the only way to increase calorie burning. The human body burns calories in several different ways. It burns calories to keep the basic body processes running. It burns calories through intentional exercise. It burns calories to eat food—everything from the energy used to chew and swallow to the energy used to store calories away.3 It also burns calories when you’re being active without consciously choosing to do so—when you are engaging in “activity” that isn’t “exercise.” The term for this kind of calorie burning is non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).4
NEAT refers to the calories used in day-to-day living. Such things as standing up from a chair, walking to your car, lifting a bag of groceries or cooking dinner all require energy. The more active you are, the more energy you burn without deliberately planning exercise.4
In this time of ever-increasing reliance on energy-saving devices, we’re letting technology do more and while we do less. Machines exist to wash dishes, laundry and cars. Snow can be blown instead of shoveled, grass can be mowed while seated, and television channels can be changed with a single click of the remote control. It has been suggested that these devices may be a part of the reason Americans have become so overweight: The energy they save is stored on our bodies in the form of fat.5
EMS is no stranger to energy-saving devices. In striving to improve efficiency and reduce strain on the provider, agencies throughout the country have employed tools ranging from automatic stretchers to automated CPR pumps. These certainly make things easier and possibly safer for the EMS provider, but these devices unintentionally decrease the amount of calories burned during the active phase of a provider’s stop-and-go day.
Take advantage of NEAT calorie burning. Add activity to your day by choosing to do something manually instead of letting a machine do it for you: Wash your own dishes, or use a shovel instead of a snow blower. Pace while you talk on the phone or fidget while you sit in a chair.
During your next shift, try adding a few chores to seriously increase your calorie burn: Spend some time cleaning the station, taking out trash, vacuuming, mopping and washing your ambulance. Make and clean up after dinner. Adding these minor activities to your day can help you to burn an extra 500 calories. That’s equivalent to running about four miles, and exactly the amount necessary to lose one pound a week.6
Note: Calorie values are estimated using the MET values of everyday activities for a 180-lb. (81.8kg) person.6 A heavier person will, on average, burn more calories doing each activity, and a lighter person will burn fewer calories.
Below are some things you can do to exercise on your shift:
• Shoveling the parking lot for 60 minutes: 490 calories
• Standing at a sports standby for 120 minutes: 330 calories
• Doing CPR for 15 minutes: 165 calories
• Caring for a patient for 40 minutes: 165 calories
• Cleaning the station for 30 minutes: 165 calories
• Typing the trip sheet for 45 minutes: 110 calories
• Carrying patient down stairs for 10 minutes: 110 calories
• Mopping the station for 20 minutes: 95 calories
• Washing an ambulance for 20 minutes: 80 calories
• Cooking dinner for crews for 20 minutes: 70 calories
• Carrying jump bag up and down stairs for 5 minutes: 55 minutes
• Riding in an ambulance for 30 minutes: 55 calories
• Washing dishes from dinner for 15 minutes: 50 calories
• Vacuuming the station for 10 minutes: 35 calories
• Washing one load of laundry for 10 minutes: 30 calories
• Making up a stretcher for 5 minutes: 20 calories
• Taking out the station trash for 2 minutes: 10 calories.6
1. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in cooperation with The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (Sept. 1998). Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults. In Obesity Education Initiative. Retrieved June 5, 2012, from www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/obesity/ob_gdlns.pdf.
2. National Institutes of Health; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; North American Association for the Study of Obesity. Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults. Washington, DC: NIH; 1998. NIH Publication No. 98-4083.
3. Nelms M, Sucher KP, Lacey K, et al. Nutrition Therapy and Pathophysiology, Second Edition. Wadsworth : Belmont, Calif., 2011.
4. Levine JA, Kotz CM. NEAT--non-exercise activity thermogenesis--egocentric & geocentric environmental factors vs. biological regulation.Acta Physiol Scand. 2005;184(4):309–318.
5. Levine J, Yeager S. Move a Little, Lose a Lot: New N.E.A.T. Science Reveals How to Be Thinner, Happier, and Smarter. New York: Three Rivers Publishing: New York, 2009.
6. Ainsworth BE, Haskell WL, Herrmann SD, et al. (n.d.) The Compendium of Physical Activities Tracking Guide. Healthy Lifestyles Research Center, College of Nursing and Health Innovation, Arizona State University. In Compendium of Physical Activities. Retrieved Apr. 22, 2012, from https://sites.google.com/site/compendiumofphysicalactivities/.