For once, let's not lie to ourselves about how we're going to "take it easy" this Thanksgiving. Most of us are going to give thanks by indulging like gluttonous pigs. It's okay, we can give ourselves a pass every now and then, but let's be real: if we don't want to have more chins on our chin's chins by New Year's, we're going to have to work it off.
But just how much work are you going to have to do? And by doing what? We crunched the numbers so you don't have to.
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How Many Calories In?
The jury is out about how much the "average American" actually consumes on Thanksgiving every year. Some claim it's 4,500 calories, others say it's between 3,000 and 5,000 calories. Either way, considering the recommended daily calorie intake is between 1,600 and 2,400 for most of us, it's safe to say that we'll be putting in more than our bodies will appreciate.
Obviously, there are going to be a lot of variables. How big are you, and how much are you going to eat? Is your Aunt Louemma going to cook everything in butter? Are you vegetarian? Vegan? Male or female? Drinking booze or teetotaling? Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that you're going to consume 4,000 calories at your Thanksgiving meal, assuming you're not a competitive eater. That's plenty of good, bad food. Or bad, good food, depending on how you look at it.
Burn Baby Burn
Full disclosure: Calculating calorie burn is very much a "your milage will vary" type of situation. People who weigh more will burn more calories than people who weigh less. Younger people, fitter people, people with higher metabolism will burn calories faster. Maybe running is easy for you, but swimming makes your heart pound like crazy. The variables go on and on.
All that being said, let's say you're a person of average fitness and you weigh 160 pounds (73 kilograms). If you weigh less, you'll have to add more time to the exercises below. If you weigh more, then you can subtract a little. Most of these figures come straight from The Mayo Clinic. Prepare yourself: Some of these numbers are shocking, but don't worry, there's a bit of good news at the end.
Okay, let's get to the fun stuff.
Time Per Activity
Jogging (5 mph)
According to the Mayo Clinic, a person weighing 160 pounds, jogging at about 5 miles per hour, will burn 606 calories per hour. To zero out your 4,000 calorie meal, you're going to have to jog for six hours and 36 minutes. That translates to 33 miles of jogging. So, you're going to run a marathon, and then keep going for another few miles like it's no big deal.
Who doesn't love a good post-Turkey Day canoe? Only those with hearts of evil, that's who. But if you're hoping your canoe jaunt will deflate your new spare tire, I hope you've set aside the whole weekend. Canoeing (in flat water, we assume) only burns about 256 calories per hour. That means you've got to keep that oar in the water and be actively paddling for 15 hours and 38 minutes. You can cut that time down by paddling up stream, but that's pretty much like being on an outdoor treadmill.
Okay, so canoeing was a little too lax and you want to kick things up a notch. You find yourself a good, low-traffic bike path where you can average speeds of 12 to 14 miles per hour, giving you a moderately intense workout. According to NutriStrategy, you'll be burning about 575 calories per hour. That's roughly seven hours of biking, or 98 miles if you're averaging 14mph. Might as well buy the extra-large tube of saddle cream and do the full century ride.
If there's one thing more American than over-indulgence, it's football (not the soccer kind). What could be more wholesome than a stuffed family, running around, trying not to vomit on each other? The Mayo Clinic says that playing touch or flag football will burn calories at about 584 per hour. So, uh, you're going to need to play six hours and 51 minutes of football, or roughly half a season of NFL games' worth. Time to join a league.
Toe-pick. Dust off your old skates for a few laps around the rink. Well, maybe a few more than a few. Casual ice skating will burn about 511 calories per hour. So, we're talking about just under eight hours of slicing ice. If we say you skate at about 8 mph, you've got 64 miles of carving ice. A standard track for speed skating is 400 meters (just under a quarter mile), so you're looking at roughly 256 revolutions. Prepare for dizziness.
Ooh, now we're talking. If you're crunched for time, jumping rope is one of your better options. Coming in at 861 calories per hour, you're looking at about four hours and 40 minutes of skipping. However, this is little comfort for those of us without rhythm of hops.
Sexercise, baby. What could be hotter than two over-full guts bouncing off each other? In recent studies, the New England Journal of Medicine and the University of Quebec at Montreal both concluded that you burn about of 3.5 calories per minute of sex (including foreplay). Obviously that will differ depending on position, intensity, and whether the gimp has had much caffeine, but basically you're staring down the barrel of just over 19 hours of getting freaky (friction burns not withstanding). Better ask Sting for some pointers.
Not as much fun as sex, sure, but certainly less awkward if you're staying with family. A brisk walk may be just the thing to clear the head after Thanksgiving debauchery. At a moderately quick pace of 3.5 mph, you're burning about 314 calories per hour (you can remember that because of all the pi you just ate... I'm sorry). You are going to have to set aside pretty much the whole day, though, because you're looking at 12 hours and 45 minutes of hoofing it. Or, to put it more brutally, 44 and a half miles. Hope you've got comfy shoes.
A personal favorite of mine, though not recommended until you're feeling a little less full. Swimming laps, freestyle, at a medium pace, will knock out roughly 600 calories per hour. That's six hours and 40 minutes of swim time. If the average person swims at about 1.1 miles per hour, then you'd essentially be swimming Florida's famous 7 Mile Bridge. Let the barracuda be your motivation.
If you're more into the club scene than the gym scene, and you don't mind sweating gravy in a room full of strangers, then you can burn about 437 calories per hour of ass-shaking. Well, technically, that number is for "jazzercise," but it was the closest analog we could find. The point is, we're looking at nine hours and 9 minutes of active workin' it. Basically, you're going to dance to all seven of Kanye West's albums plus Justin Timberlake's 20/20 Experience (disc one and two).
Now, some of these numbers may be intimidating—okay, they're all extremely intimidating—but remember you don't have to do this all at once. You can spread it out over the next week or two. Even better, you can mix and match, to keep things interesting. Just use the calories per hour number to and keep track of what you've done and add it all up until you're zeroed-out.
But keep in mind that this is exercise beyond your usual routine for balancing out your normal calorie consumption. It ends up being a lot of extra time tacked on, and so it's no surprise that with Holiday shopping, spending time with family, more holiday meals (and oh did we mention eggnog?), that most of us put on a few pounds this time of year.
Try to make time for it, though, because if you do, you'll have a much smaller hill to climb come January first. Your future-self will thank you for it, even if your present-self is cursing up a blue streak as you canoe into eternity.
Image credit: Shutterstock/Svetlana Foote and donnyphoto Stock