What's that activity worth? The real calories burned in your average day

Our fitness expert discovers what our daily lives are worth in calories
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What burns more calories, loading the dishwasher or taking a vigorous shower? Scrubbing your teeth or just being asleep? These aren't questions troubling the world’s top scientists, but for anyone who owns a shiny new fitness tracker this is the kind of essential information that you’ll just be starting to obsess over.

Essential reading: How to master your fitness tech

Because science abhors a vacuum, we’ve strapped a Polar Loop to our resident our fitness tech expert and set him about a range of everyday tasks to find out what parts of our lives are best for burning calories. What he found was shocking – if not very scientific at all.

Being asleep from midnight to 7am


You’ll be pleased to hear that the Polar Loop’s calorie counter ticks over happily while you’re in the land of nod. The calories you clock up in your dream state are all based on your basic metabolic rate - or the rate at which your body burns energy just keeping you alive. In my case in the seven hours blissful shut eye I my 5’11’, 80kg body clocked up 591 calories. That’s 1.4 for every minute.

Time taken: 420 minutes

Calories burned: 591 kcal

Burn rate: 1.4 kcal per minute

Brushing your teeth


Tending to your gnashers is one of those activities that makes your arm go up and down like a fiddler’s elbow. For that reason, wrist-worn fitness trackers that use an accelerometer to track your moves can be criticised for being easy to game or inaccurate. So I was interested to see how this scrubbed up against the other tasks. During a three minute brushing I clocked up 20 calories and if I wasn’t busy being part of science I could’ve gone for longer.

Side observation: focussing on the calorie count on my fitness tracker almost inspired me to brush my teeth for longer.

Time taken: 3 minutes

Calories burned: 20 kcal

Burn rate: 6.66 kcal per minute

Having a shower


The Polar Loop is water resistant so your shower time doesn’t need to go unlogged. For the purposes of this experiment and to save at least one polar bear (see what I did there), I kept my shower to a short but thorough five minutes.

Time taken: 5 minutes

Calories burned: 58 kcal

Burn rate: 11.6 kcal per minute

Getting dressed


Unless you’re a naturist, this activity should always figure in your daily routine. But how much energy do you expend pulling on some whities, squeezing yourself into a pair of jeans and slipping on a t-shirt and jumper? Surprisingly the burn rate jumps, so if you're stuck for gym time, just spend it in the changing room instead.

Time taken: 6 minutes

Calories burned: 43 kcal

Burn rate: 7.1 kcal per minute

Vacuuming the house


Now we’re getting into the really interesting stuff, chores. My house has three floors, three bedrooms, an office, a kitchen, a lounge and two bathrooms. I, however, only Hoovered the front room and the kitchen and the stairs. Anything else would be utter madness. It took approximately 15 minutes to do my usual half-arsed job during which I baked off a whole 63 calories.

Side observation: Unlike brushing my teeth I felt no compulsion to vacuum longer, harder or more dilligently to ‘earn and burn’ more calories.

Time taken: 15 minutes

Calories burned: 63 kcal

Burn rate: 4.2 kcal per minute

Loading the dishwasher


Loading up last night’s dinner dishes along with those from this morning’s breakfast involves a lot of bending, fetching and carrying. Shuttle runs of a sort. I like to call them Bus Boys. This household necessity took me five minutes to load two dishwasher trays equating to total calorie burn of 15.

Time taken: 5 minutes

Calories burned: 15 kcal

Burn rate: 3 kcal per minute

Walking to the train station


This could almost qualify as real exercise. I live 0.64 miles from the nearest London Underground station which is no more than a 10 minute walk. On the day of the test it was a pretty cold day so my stride was brisk. With the Polar’s ability to connect to heart rate monitor I could also keep an eye on how hard my ticker was working. It ranged from 90-103 bpm, well in my fat burn zone.

Time taken: 10 minutes

Calories burned: 99 kcal

Burn rate: 9.9 kcal per minute

Getting to your desk


Once I’m at the station, my journey to work usually consists of sitting for 30 minutes before a five minute walk up a few escalators to change trains. That’s followed by 10 more minutes warming my bottom. I finish all this fun off by climbing one more escalator and logging a 5 minute walk to my office. It sounds like it ought to burn a decent amount of energy but the truth is disappointing. A measly 121 calories burned, just a whisker above the base rate I’d burn if I were sitting still.

Time taken: 50 minutes

Calories burned: 121 kcal

Burn rate: 2.42 kcal per minute

Cooking dinner


Granted heating up some red pepper soup on the stove, chucking some spinach on a plate and sprinkling over a few sunflower seeds isn’t the most time consuming or adventurous dinner but there is at least five minutes of stirring to factor in here and two trips to the fridge. Still the 459 calorie dinner I made only took 8 calories to create, leaving a deficit that’d make George Osborne wince.

Time taken: 10 minutes

Calories burned: 8 kcal

Burn rate: 0.8 kcal per minute

How we test

Kieran Alger


Kieran is a world record-setting runner and one of the UK's most experienced running journalists.

A constant tester of the latest fitness technology, he's always hunting for innovations that can make him run faster, further and generally be in better shape.

Kieran is often found wearing four GPS running watches at once. And to date he's tracked more than 50 marathons, 13 ultras and countless half marathons - including the Marathon Des Sables.

In 2022, he became the first person to run the river Danube from sea to source, a measly 1,830 miles in 66 days. And still had time to test running gear.

Kieran regularly takes running tech to the extremes for Wareable and the likes of Runner's World, Mens Health and Wired.

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