How Technology Gave You 111 Calories a Day

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on March 14, 2012 · 0 comments

Your mother may have eaten McDonald’s in high school but she didn’t have a drive-thru. Your grandmother probably walked to the ice cream shop after school. Modern technology has changed the way we live over the last 75 years by creating many labor saving devices. Has the energy we saved gone right to our hips?

If you are reading this, you are probably sitting at your computer and your most vigorous activity is mouse clicking — not very calorie demanding. With industrialization and financial growth, there has been a shift in the typical activities people do daily. Less walking and manual labor replaced by more TV watching and computer use. We have systematically engineered activity out of lives to the point where do don’t even need to get up to change the TV channel or get out of the car to open the garage door.

A research study looked at life in the 1920s compared to life today, to quantify the amount of calories saved through modern labor-saving devices. Half of the difference in energy expenditure between modern and older times was in walking. We simply don’t walk anymore. The average American clocks a quarter mile a day. Living in a city is an advantage because city dwellers walk far more than their suburban or country cousins. In fact many suburbanites walk very little because neighborhoods laid out in the 1950s are sidewalk-less and designed for automobile use. Many towns are addressing that issue today, by providing more bike paths and pedestrian walkways to encourage activity.

After walking, the biggest changes from the good old days to now are that we no longer wash clothes by hand, wash dishes by hand or climb stairs. It takes 2.07 calories/minute to wash clothes by hand, and 1.32 calories/minute to use a washing machine. It takes 1.83 calories/minute to wash dishes by hand and 1.31 calories/minute to use a dishwasher. Walking stairs burns 4.2 calories/minute but taking an elevator uses only 1.3 calories/minute. When the researchers put all these differences together they came up with 111 calories saved daily through mechanization. The difference may not seem significant but over years it can add up to an enormous calorie reserve that winds up being stored as excess weight, unless we reduce our food intake.

When you do less labor you use fewer calories. We are not suggesting that you take your clothes down to the local stream and beat them on a rock. But the next time you use the electric can opener think about what’s happening to those calories you’re saving. Cumulative energy saved, without a reduction in food intake adds up to pounds gained.

Let’s look at what you can gain from 10 minutes of activity a day. If you weigh 150 pounds, 10 minutes of lying on the couch watching TV burns about 15 calories. If you sit up, you’ll burn 20 calories. Walking in place for 10 minutes burns 40 calories; jogging bumps you to 90. Just adding a leisurely 10-minute walk to your daily routine can burn 14,600 calories a year! On any given day, just a little extra effort will help you make up that 111 calorie difference.

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