Calorie Burn: Could Your Exercise Equipment be Telling you Lies?

calorie burn

My gym has recently installed a vast array of shiny new treadmills, stationery cycles and elliptical, all with impressive screen displays and access to a wealth of information about your workout.

So much information is available on the exercise equipment that it often takes me more time to work out how to get the thing started than do the actual workout. I admit to being an eavesdropper in the gym because the conversations floating around the barbells and leg press provide me with a wealth of material.

My eavesdropping tells me that its good to know how fast and hard you are working out but there is no doubt that in my gym and probably in most others everywhere, the calorie counter on the cardio machines is the proverbial gold nugget. It’s not just the satisfaction of knowing how much you have burned off but also an unofficial license defining the boundaries of how much you can eat as soon as you leap off that machine.

Sadly but not really surprisingly, some recent studies have shown that cardio machines and fitness trackers are not entirely accurate and in some cases, not even remotely reflecting reality.

Researchers have found that exercise equipment like cardio machines overestimated calorie burn by 19% on average. The elliptical was the biggest fibber, overestimating calories burned by a substantial 42%, the treadmill by 13% and the stair climber by 12%. The stationary bike told the most truth but still overestimated calorie burn by 7%.

It has been shown that newer machines are more accurate which means happy days in my gym but usually most of us just have to deal with whatever exercise equipment is available at our gyms. None of this should be a huge surprise though, as most machines only account for age and weight without considering heart rate, body temperature, body fat, fatigue and hormones which fluctuate often.

Outside of the gym, you will see fitness trackers such as Fitbit, Jawbone and now the Apple watch gracing the wrists of many people who might not step a foot in a gym. Various studies have shown that these devices also have a margin of error but do give a more accurate assessment of calorie burn plus they can be worn all day to measure overall energy expenditure. The downside is that many of them can’t track stairs or cycling as they don’t contain an altimeter but they can track basic steps, calories and the length of exercise.

I love that fitness trackers help motivate people to maximize their daily step tally and improve fitness levels making them a very useful tool in managing health and well-being. I love the conversations and comparisons in workplaces that drive those extra steps and encourage us to do a couple of laps of the office to reach our target for the day.

Accept that the numbers flashing results while you are striding out on exercise equipment or the tally on your wristband as benchmarks and not scientifically written in stone. Don’t base your calorie intake or consume extra calories based on the number provided but do use them as a push towards being more active and increasing your fitness levels. Calories are a bit like money in the bank, it’s good to know you have some extra up your sleeve for when you really need them.

The Three Lessons Yoga Taught Me Today

Julie Yoga Until last year, yoga and I have struggled to be friends. At times, our relationship has been downright dysfunctional and we have had a long history of emotions running hot and cold, predominantly cold. I loved the idea of yoga but the actual reality of being able to do it, did not align with my physical (in)capability.  And then, last year a good friend introduced me to Mia, a highly experienced yoga teacher and my dysfunctional relationship became one of peace, calm and acceptance of what my body could do, not what it couldn’t. This morning as I was moving through the poses, I realised that I have learnt three life lessons through my yoga adventures, applicable to anybody trying to change any aspect of their health and life:

1. What we want or need is not always available to us – I will never forget a yoga class that I attended some time ago when the teacher asked us to align ourselves into a position that looked even trickier than usual to me.

While we were all silently attempting the impossible (to me), the teacher announced that this particular pose was ‘not available to him today.’ I had to smother hysterical laughter at this point because for me, it was never going to be available, that day or any other. But you know what? We all have days when a particular behaviour, skill or practise is simply not available to us and sometimes we just need to accept it.  This doesn’t mean you have failed, it just means that investing your energy in something else that IS available to you and achievable today is a wiser choice. Plus, what is not available to you today might just be there for you tomorrow.

2. There is always turbulence in our lives – this morning while I was stretching my limbs, a howling easterly wind was roaring around outside scattering dust and leaves every which way.

I could see and hear this happening outside my yoga class but despite the possible distraction of this turbulence, all was calm inside.  The turbulence that we experience in our day-to-day lives can obviously be a lot more serious than a strong wind. It could be problems with your family, friends, health issues, financial concerns, job insecurity, moving house, relationship breakdowns or any one of life’s stressful events. All of these and more, represent turbulence. Quite often, turbulence or a shake-up in our lives is just what we need to take the first step toward real change for our physical and mental well-being. We can also acknowledge the turbulence and do it anyway.

3. Use your edge – Not long ago I was standing in line waiting to order in a cafe and noticed an interesting quote scribbled along the front of the coffee machine.  The author was anonymous but it simply stated “If you are not living on the edge, you are taking up too much room.”

To me, living on the edge has a negative connotation.   However, renowned Yoga Master and author Erich Schiffman, talks about ‘the edge’ in another way in relation to stretching in yoga. Erich explains that, “If you don’t go far enough, there is no challenge to the muscles, no intensity, no stretch, and little possibility for opening. Going too far, however, is an obvious violation of the body, increasing the possibility of both physical pain and injury. Somewhere between these two points is a degree of stretch that is in balance: intensity without pain, use without abuse, strenuousness without strain. You can experience this balance in every posture you do. This place in the stretch is called your edge.” But what about applying that edge to other aspects of our daily life, where we tend to remain within a familiar but limited comfort zone by staying away from both our physical and mental edges? Schiffman suggests that staying within that zone would be fine, “Except that as aging occurs these limits close in considerably. Our bodies tighten, our range of movement decreases, and our strength and stamina diminish. By consciously bringing the body and mind to its various limits or edges and holding it there, gently nudging it toward more openness with awareness, the long, slow process of closing in begins to reverse itself. The range expands as the edges change.” Moving that edge is one that I am happy to keep expanding

Namaste to Mia.

Sitting on the Job


In the world of risk factors for health, sitting is being touted as the new smoking.  This of course, does make me fidget in my seat as I write. This controversial info graphic might make you squirm too. Jobs that require standing all day present issues of their own but a mixture of both has got to be the winning combination. A current challenge in the workplace is to reduce the amount of time we spend sitting in our workday. Research shows that being desk or chair bound at work for long periods poses a health and safety risk to workers and that extended sitting is a separate risk factor from not getting enough daily physical activity. Sitting for long periods of time has become an unwelcome feature of many professions that require the use of a computer or being behind the wheel of a vehicle or truck in the transport industry. It is more important than ever that we renew our energy throughout the day, particularly if we do spend a lot of time sitting. One way of doing this is to take regular breaks to refuel or physically move to get our circulation flowing to brains and bodies and therefore increasing our well-being and productivity. Greatist Daily is one of my favourite ports of call for the happening things, ideas and strategies in health and they have some innovative ideas for ‘Deskercise‘ which I love and I think you might too.