Want to lose weight? Go for a run. When it comes to burning calories – or more specifically, using up more energy than you consume, a requirement for getting rid of fat – few activities are better than a brisk jog. The British Heart Foundation reckons that an adult weighing 75kg will expend 430 calories in a moderately paced half-hour run. That’s roughly a fifth of the recommended daily intake: the equivalent of two small servings of McDonald’s fries, or three cans of Coca-Cola.
Boxing and canoeing are more energy-sapping, though less accessible. According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, 48m Americans pulled on their running shoes in 2015 (the country has a similar proportion of joggers to Australia, with Britain trailing). By contrast, just 5m Americans strapped on a pair of boxing gloves.
Of course, the body uses energy even when stationary, and some people, particularly heavier ones, burn more calories than others. But regardless of your particular metabolism, an arduous session on a bike or in the pool will do more for you than hopping on a rowing machine. Ball sports vary. Football requires two-thirds more calories than volleyball, tennis and basketball are equally exhausting, while golf and baseball are hardly more strenuous than walking.
Losing fat is not the only reason for keeping active. Regular, moderate exercise also reduces the risk of heart disease. Those motivated enough to try high-intensity interval training – short bursts of frenetic activity rather than long periods of exertion – will improve their aerobic capacity. Weightlifters might not care that they use less energy than badminton players, providing they end up with bigger biceps. And America’s 25m yogi will certainly be more flexible than its 45m bowlers.
For people reluctant to put on their sports kit, household activities are always an option. National surveys show that around 60% of adult Americans have sex each year; no official participation data exist for chores, but estimates are in the same range. An hour of mowing the lawn or 100 minutes of strenuous vacuuming will burn as many calories as a half-hour run. Sex? Not so much. You’d need three hours of it.