An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.



As the impact of nutrition and physical fitness on overall health becomes more well-known, people are becoming increasingly aware of their caloric balance – how many calories are consumed compared to how many calories are burned. People with a goal of weight loss strive to achieve a negative caloric balance. Individuals aiming to improve physical performance may focus on a positive caloric balance to ensure they adequately replace calories lost during exercise and properly fuel for their next workout. Regardless of your goals, understanding how calories are burned is a crucial step in achieving your desired caloric balance. Increasing the amount of moderate activity throughout your day is one simple way to burn additional calories.

How do we burn calories?

If you do an internet search on how to lose weight, the results will contain everything from fad diets and weight loss pills to exercise programs and surgical interventions. At the most fundamental level, however, weight loss can be achieved in only one way – burn more calories than you consume. Understanding the factors that contribute to total energy expenditure (TEE), or the total amount of calories your body uses, is helpful in recognizing ways to increase calories burned and decrease body weight. Total energy expenditure has three primary components1,2 :

  • Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) – number of calories your body uses while at rest. RMR is determined primarily by body weight, composition (muscle vs. fat) and genetics. This generally accounts for about 70% of TEE.
  • Thermic effect of food – number of calories you burn digesting your food. This can range from 6%-10% of your TEE.
  • Activity-induced energy expenditure – number of calories burned doing any type of physical activity. This is the component of total energy expenditure over which you have the most control, so it makes sense to target your interventions at this component. Physical activity accounts for approximately 20% of your TEE.

How do we burn more calories?

Any form of physical activity causes activity-induced energy expenditure. Each week, it is recommended that individuals engage in a minimum of 250 minutes of moderate physical activity per week for weight loss, and 150 minutes in order to maintain a healthy weight, improve mood, and decrease the risk of chronic illnesses such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.3 Many people rely on exercise, or the conscientious act of putting forth physical effort, for their physical activity, however, exercise is only one way to be physically active. It is important to consider all types of physical activity, including routine, daily activities. When doing so, you will discover lots of new ways to burn a few extra calories throughout your day. For example:

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Park in the furthest spot from the entrance when you are running errands.
  • Consider walking or biking if you are traveling for less than one mile.
  • Do active household chores:
    • Vacuum and clean your house.
    • Lift your groceries out of your car.
    • Get outside – plant a garden, mow the lawn with a push mower, rake the leaves or shovel snow. All are great ways to get your heart rate up!

Research has shown that prolonged sitting can contribute to weight gain which in turn may increase your risk of chronic diseases such as, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. The good news is that regular breaks from prolonged sitting have the potential to reduce body mass index, waist circumference and triglyceride levels, alleviating some of these health risks.4 Some ways to reduce the amount of time spent sitting include:

  • March in place during commercial breaks when watching television, or see how many pushups you can do before your show comes back on.
  • Walk to your co-worker's desk to talk to them instead of sending an email.
  • Set an alert on your calendar or phone to remind you to get up, stretch and walk around every two hours.
  • Perform chair exercises to burn calories while you are at work or at your home computer. See the attached document for chair exercise suggestions and descriptions.

Another way to increase your calories burned is to add resistance training to your workout regimen. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including exercise using weight machines, free weights, resistance bands or your own body weight. While both endurance training and resistance training decrease total fat mass, resistance exercise training (also known as strength training) has been shown to also increase fat-free mass, which includes lean muscle. Increases in fat-free mass also lead to higher RMR, which means you burn more calories after your workout is complete by simply going about your daily activities. 5

The role of nutrition

Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight and level of fitness requires a combination of active living and healthy eating.6 In addition to helping you reach and sustain your desired weight, a healthy, well-rounded approach to nutrition is necessary to fuel your body, mind and daily performance. Selecting foods that are nutrient-dense provides your body with valuable energy. The Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center has tools and resources for general nutrition, performance nutrition, weight management and active living.

Resources to help get you moving

Engaging in moderate to intense activity helps you look good, feel good and perform at your best. Achieving the recommended 150 minutes of moderate activity per week may seem overwhelming, until you consider all of the different ways you can get moving. To learn about more ways to be active, including the Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling System (NOFFS) designed to "eliminate the guesswork" from exercise programming, visit the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center Active Living website at


1. O'Dwyer C, Coote S. A Guide for Clinicians – Physical Activity and Energy Expenditure Explained. Physical Therapy Reviews. 2010;15(5):382-90.

2. Clark M, Laucett S, Sutton B, eds. NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training Manual. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2011: 436.

3. Garber C, Blissner B, Deschenes M, et al. Quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor fitness in apparently healthy adults: Guidance for prescribing exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2011;43(7):1334-59. Accessed March 28, 2013

4. Pronk N, Katz A, Lowry M, et al. Reducing occupational sitting time and improving worker health: The take-a-stand project, 2011. Prev Chronic Dis. 2012;9:11. Published October 11, 2012. Accessed March 27, 2012.

5. Tresierras M, Balady G. Resistance training in the treatment of diabetes and obesity: MECHANISMS AND OUTCOMES. J Cardiopulm Rehabil Prev. 2009;29(2):67-75. DOI: 10.1097/HCR.0b013e318199ff69.

6. Donnely J, Blair S, Jakicic J, et al. Appropriate physical activity intervention strategies for weight loss and prevention of weight regain for adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2009;41(2):459-71. DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181949333.

Guidance-Card-Icon Dept-Exclusive-Card-Icon