Health Team

Counting Calories Burned? Don't Count on Fitness Machines

Posted January 16, 2008

— With healthy eating and regular exercise at a WakeMed fitness center, Judy Garrett has lost 120 pounds in two years. However, she has learned not to trust the calorie counters on the fitness machines.

“This [machine] says that you burn 25 percent more calories than that one does, so I know that’s not correct,” Garrett said.

The machines track people’s workout times, their speed and heart rate. But can they really count calories burned?

“Well, unfortunately, they really should be used more as a general guideline,” said WakeMed Fitness Specialist Marie Bagin.

Heavily used machines easily fall out of calibration, Bagin said. There are other factors, such as body weight. Most newer machines ask people to enter their weight, but many people don’t.

“If you don’t put in a weight, most machines assume that you’re a 154 pound male,” Bagin said.

Machines with moving handle bars may assume that people are using them when it counts calories.

“So if my arms are not moving, I’m not burning as many calories as I normally would have been,” Bagin said.

Experts say the important point is to count the number of minutes people exercise on a weekly basis. Garrett’s goal is about an hour on workout machines at least five days a week.

“Some days I don’t want to come. I make myself come, and when I leave, I feel so much better,” she said.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults should engage in moderate intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, for at least 30 minutes, five or more days per week.

People should talk to their doctors before starting any new exercise program.


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  • soulcandy Jan 17, 2008

    Yeah, they're not very accurate. The heart rate monitors on those machines can be way off too. FWIW, you can get a nice wireless Polar HRM you wear like a watch starting around $30 and really nice ones for $100+ that will also count calories burned.

    “Some days I don’t want to come. I make myself come, and when I leave, I feel so much better,” she said.
    That quote speaks volumes, some of the best workouts I have ever had were on days I had to force myself to get up and workout.

  • allison842 Jan 16, 2008

    I wonder if the labels are accurate that tell you how many calories you've CONSUMED.

    But yes, all of those cardio machines are different. They're a good guideline though. You should expect to burn about 100 calories every 8 minutes on an elliptical, for example...

  • Tom Carter Jan 16, 2008

    Well Duh???? That is the problem with people in this world. They Assume computers are always right. It has more to do with who programmed it rather then how it is used.

  • whatelseisnew Jan 16, 2008

    I get all the exercise I need walking to the vending machine and back.