By Pete Mc Call, MSMcCall has an MS in Exercise Science and Health Promotion. In addition, he is an ACE-certified Personal Trainer (ACE-CPT) and holds additional certifications and advanced specializations through NSCA and NASM. McCall has been featured in the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Runner’s World and Self.

October 27, 2014

When people think of starting a workout program, running is often one of the first modes of exercise that comes to mind. Running or jogging can be an effective way to exercise and provides a variety of health benefits, but many people find running uncomfortable or downright painful. If this is you, here’s some good news: If you don’t like to run, you don’t have to!

First it’s helpful to understand how we measure energy expenditure. The human body expends approximately 5 calories of energy to use one liter of oxygen. Exercise physiologists and researchers use Metabolic Equivalents (METs) to estimate the energy expenditure for many common physical activities based on the amount of oxygen consumed. One MET represents the amount of oxygen used by the body while at rest (such as reading this blog post). An activity that is 4 METs requires the body to use approximately four times as much oxygen than when at rest, making that activity more efficient at expending energy (burning calories). If you run for the purpose of burning calories, but really dislike running or find it painful and uncomfortable, you might want to consider finding other types of physical activity that you can enjoy that also increase your oxygen consumption and caloric expenditure.

The Compendium on Physical Activity identifies MET values for a wide variety of physical activities. Researchers have assigned MET values for everything from common types of exercise to relatively obscure activities like pulling a rickshaw. Walking at a moderate pace of 3 miles per hour (mph) on a level, firm surface is approximately 3.5 METs, which means that the body is using 3.5 times the amount of oxygen than it does while sitting still at rest. Running at 7.0 mph has a MET value of 11.0 (meaning your body uses approximately three times the amount of oxygen that it does when walking and 11 times more oxygen than while sitting at rest). This brief review of energy expenditure can help you see why running is considered effective for burning calories because it increases the total volume of oxygen consumption, but if you don’t want to run you don’t have to. Instead, identify other activities you enjoy that help you consume more oxygen that, in turn, burns more calories. By the way, pulling a rickshaw is 6.3 METs.

To give you an idea of the energy cost of running, here are the MET values for various running speeds:

MET Values for Running
Pace

MET Value 

4 mph (15-minute mile)

6.0

6 mph (10-minute mile)

9.8

8 mph (7.5-minute mile)

11.8

10 mph (6-minute mile)

14.5

12 mph (5-minute mile)

19.0

Here are 15 non-running exercise options that boost caloric burn and provide health benefits:

1. Walking may not expend as much energy as running, but when using Nordic walking poles, carrying a backpack (or wearing a weighted vest), cross-country hiking or ascending a hill or set of stairs, the energy expenditure can get close to that of running, but with much less impact on the body.

2. Cleaning the house or yard may not be much fun, but you can use more oxygen and burn more calories than simply walking and you end up creating a more beautiful space. If you live in a place that doesn’t have a yard to clean, look for volunteer opportunities in your area. This is a great way to help others while burning calories.

3. If you have a health club membership, consider using the rowing ergometer or taking an indoor cycling class. Both offer the opportunity to increase your caloric output with minimal impact stresses on the body.

4. If you have access to a pool, you can burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time by swimming laps.

5. Find your inner kid by going out and playing with yours at a park (instead of sitting on the bench checking your phone) or by jumping rope.

6. If you enjoy dancing, then dance, dance, dance the calories away and never have to lace up another pair of running shoes again.

7. Weight-lifting circuits that include exercises for the upper- and lower-body and core muscles combined with minimal rest intervals are an efficient way to improve strength levels while burning calories.

MET Values for Non-running Activities
Activity

MET Value

Walking at 3.5 mph while wearing a weight vest or carrying a heavy backpack

4.8

Walking at a moderate (3.5-4.0 mph) pace using Nordic or hiking poles

4.8

Walking uphill at a 2.9-3.5 mph pace on a 6-15% grade

8.0

Walking up stairs at a fast pace

8.8

Hiking cross country (no backpack)

6.0

Circuit training – vigorous effort with kettlebells

8.0

Cycling outdoors – moderate effort (12-13.9 mph)

8.0

Indoor cycling class
(estimated, this varies based on instructor and intensity)

8.5

Rowing ergometer – moderate effort (100 Watts)

7.0

Jumping rope at a moderate pace (approximately 100-120 skips/minute)

11.8

Vigorous playing with children (during active periods)

5.8

Dancing – general

7.8

Swimming – freestyle, moderate effort

5.8

House cleaning moderate-to-vigorous effort

3.5

Yard work – vigorous effort

6.0

If your goal is to improve your health and lose weight, running can be an extremely effective way to burn calories. But it is certainly not the only way to exercise. For many people, running can be uncomfortable at best, cause an injury at worse, and may not the best form of exercise for their needs. No matter which type of exercise or activity you pursue, remember that, when it comes to exercise, a little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.