With the average American working a 40 hour work week, the number of calories that you burn during your working day is no small or dismissible variable in staying fit.
Unfortunately, many of us have sedentary jobs that have us staring into a computer screen while sitting on our bums all day long. I thought it would be fun to apply a rough equation based on the average steps taken in an occupation to work out a guesstimate of how many calories any given specific job burns throughout the day.
All calculations are for an individual weighing 145 pounds. As always, a person's energy expenditure will depend on weight, muscle content, gender, age, and many other factors.
How many calories are burned at work?
Calories burned in a desk job
Examples: Receptionists, counselors, customer service telephone workers, writers, graphic designers, accountants, commercial and public transportation drivers, cashiers, tech support, IT development, administration & secretaries
These sedentary jobs have the people who fill them taking very few steps each day. Most of the activity would come from running back and forth to the printer, to and from the supply closet, tending to customers needs, and trips to the bathroom. With an estimated 600 steps per hour, and 4800 steps per day, this occupation burns roughly 102.5 cal/hour and 820 calories in one working day.
People who have places of work that are this sedentary need to take special care in making sure that they work hard to add extra activity into their day. Being this physically inactive is associated with all kinds of diseases and ailments, including heart disease and diabetes. It is very easy for extra weight to sneak up on you when you work this kind of job. Be proactive about protecting your health by making staying fit a priority.
Calories burned in jobs with moderate activity
Examples: Teachers, childcare workers, personal trainers, mechanics, police officers, cooks, salespeople, floor managers, pharmacy techs, nurses & other health care providers, realtors, and security services.
These professionals are not completely sedentary in their jobs, but they also aren't necessarily reaching the recommended 10,000 steps a day. During an hour these careers require roughly 920 steps, which adds up to 7360 steps during the full 8 hours. This activity, along with energy required for bodily function, adds up to a total of 127.5 calories burned per hour, or 1020 throughout the full working day.
All of these jobs are a bit more physically active than a regular desk job, but they still fall short of 10,000 steps a day. They also don't get the heart rate up, and they don't build lean muscle. Intentional physical activity is still very much a necessity in these workplaces to maintain health and keep weight from creeping upwards.
Calories burned in jobs with a high amount of activity
Examples: Construction workers, waitresses, farmers, custodians and maintenance workers, landscapers, professionals of a construction trade such as carpenters, plumbers, welders, roofers, or electricians.
These professions require a lot of physically taxing activity. They might range widely in nature, but what they have in common is that they cover a lot of distance, or spend a lot of time hefting themselves or materials around in order to get a job done. They spent much of the day on their feet, and some of them must use their strength in often varying and unpredictable ways.
With roughly 1500 steps taken each hour, these careers have people taking roughly 12,000 steps in an 8 hour period. By our calculations, that’s 175 calories per hour, or 1,400 in eight. Keep in mind that these numbers are based off of a 145 pound person. Considering that the occupations above have a higher than average male occupancy, body weights will tend to be higher and so will the caloric burn.
These physically challenging jobs might have people taking enough steps, and burning enough calories, but they do not lead to a complete picture of fitness. There is still plenty of room for strength training, cardio that is intense enough to get the heart rate up, and stretching to help maintain flexibility and avoid injuries.
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How are Americans still overweight when they’re burning so many calories at work?
Weight gain, loss, and maintenance is all about calories burned versus calories consumed. Hypothetically speaking, even if you burned 10,000 cal a day, you would gain weight if you ate 11,000. If you're trying to keep extra pounds at bay your focus should be adjusting the ratios of what your burning compared to what you're consuming. Make sure that you don't undo the hard physical labor that you do at work or at the gym by eating more than you are burning throughout the day.
Here's how we came up with the numbers above: the body burns roughly 12 calories per pound of bodyweight per day, just for the most essential body functions (no physical activity at all). For a person who weighs 145 pounds, that's 1740 cal per day, just to keep the body running. Divide that by the 24 hours in the day and you're looking at 72.5 cal per hour. Multiply that by 8 (the average hours in the workday) and you get 580 calories. Using estimates of steps taken throughout the working day and other variables of physical exertion, we approximated the number of additional calories (on top of baseline, resting calories burned) that that particular professional would burn per day during their job.
How active is your job? Do you feel physically restless by the end of the day because you have been sitting too long, or are your legs and feet tired after having been moving nonstop? Do you think that the number of calories burned by occupation on the list above reflects the amount of calories that you burn each day?