Calorie counting made easy

Special to The Times

It’s pretty easy to figure out the calories burned by walking, jogging or doing a workout on a stair climber.

But what about the more mundane actions that clutter daily life, such as photocopying, sitting at meetings, grocery shopping and loading the dishwasher? How do you calculate numbers for those activities? And how do you figure the calories burned by taking the stairs and other so-called “lifestyle activities” that public health officials increasingly urge Americans to engage in?

Peter Christensen, a 58-year-old retired technical writer and grandfather of six from Vancouver, Wash., wondered just that. Five years ago, when he couldn’t find the information he sought on the Internet, Christensen developed Calories Per Hour (, a free, interactive website that provides tools to answer his questions -- and likely many of yours. (Plug the word “calories” into Google and it’s the No. 1 site that emerges, logging 15,000 visitors per day.)

Although he has no formal training in nutrition, exercise physiology or computer programming, Christensen plumbed scientific literature for data on calories burned by physical activity and took advantage of the large body of nutrition information available in the public domain from federal sources, including the Department of Agriculture.


Calculators used on his site to measure calories burned draw heavily from “The Compendium of Physical Activities,” written by leading exercise physiologists and published in 2000 in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, a peer-reviewed journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Christensen also taught himself HTML, the computer language used to create websites, and learned JavaScript to do calculations and display the results online.

“I have not learned about databases yet,” he explained in an e-mail, “and have entered virtually every keystroke of the data for the calories burned and nutrition calculators by hand.”

That easy, no-cost access is important to Christensen, a veteran yo-yo dieter and onetime member of Overeaters Anonymous, who knows about the joy and despair of losing and regaining the same 20 pounds again and again. “I wanted this to be as brief, simple and non-scary as it can be,” he says.


Christensen’s efforts have earned him commercial offers to buy the site, which he so far has resisted. But he’s proudest of the e-mails that he receives from grateful users. “One guy wrote to me and said that the tools were just ‘right on,’ ” Christensen says. “I never expected that.”

Since the website’s debut in 2000, Calories Per Hour has added tutorials and tools to calculate calories eaten.

“The food calculator gets as much business or more as the calories-burned calculator,” Christensen says.

The site does offer this caveat: “The results of our calculators are only estimates, and we do not guarantee the accuracy of either our calculators or our data. We suggest that you consult with a health professional before altering your eating or exercise habits.”


A bonus for site visitors: an occasional dash of dry humor. How many calories are burned attending a family reunion? About 102 calories per hour for a 150-pound person -- provided there’s no fighting. What does swimming get you? A vigorous crawl burns 748 calories per hour -- except during a shark attack. In that case, Christensen says, “Why bother?”

Here’s what else you’ll find:

No math required. Just plug in height, weight, age and gender to quickly find out how many calories you burn doing things such as accordion playing (about 122 calories per hour for a 150-pound person), belly dancing (306 per hour), ushering at church (136), shearing sheep (408), windsurfing (204) and yard work (340).

Safe and steady. A calculator figures out a safe rate of weight loss for those who want to trim pounds and shows how many weeks it will take to achieve.


Mundane to the exotic. How many calories are in a root beer float from A&W;? How about that sushi? The food calories and nutrition calculator reveals that and more, including net carbs and ingredients for favorite home recipes.



Everyday workouts


The number of calories burned for assorted 30-minute activities. (Calculations are based on a 40-year-old male, 5 feet 10, 160 pounds.)


Beach volleyball...290



Carrying groceries...91



Cleaning house



Folk dancing...163

Frisbee playing...109

Golf (pulling clubs)...156


Hatha yoga...91


Lying down (sleeping)...33

Movie watching...36


Office desk work...65


Running (5 mph)...290

Sexual activity (moderate)...47


Surfing (body or board)...109

Tai chi...145

Treadmill (level, 4 mph)...145

Walking (with dog)...109