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Posted on Mon. Jan. 21, 2013 - 12:01 am EDT

ADVENTURES IN FOOD AND FITNESS

‘Calorie-burn game” makes treadmill fun

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Is it true you can burn as many calories walking 3 mph on a treadmill set at maximum incline as you can running 7 mph on a flat surface?

Naturally, I had to try this, especially since it came from the editors of Men's Health, the snarky fitness magazine that periodically includes Fort Wayne in its rankings of fat and sedentary cities.

After testing their theory at three different gyms, I'd have to say: No, not quite, at least not at my current weight of 135 pounds. Still, it's shocking how much the incline function revs up the calorie burn — enough so that “hiking the mountain” has become a big part of my favorite treadmill game.

I wish I could be more like my neighbor Yolanda, who can just crank up her favorite “man-bashing” tunes and get absorbed in a 5-mile treadmill run. To her, the machine she got last year is a “godsend” that whisks her away from the demands of full-time babysitting along with caring for her own family.

“There's just something about those women-empowering songs that really gets me going,” she said. “I feel so much better afterward. Plus, I really savor the 'me' time.”

From Yolanda's perspective, it's much more daunting to suit up and run outside in the wind and traffic. But treadmill running always made me feel like a caged rat. Even headphones weren't enough of a distraction.

Serious runners use treadmill workouts to maximize performance — usually by mixing in high-speed intervals — but I never applied enough effort to get the kind of results that might make me keep at it.

It wasn't until I took my eyes off the time and mileage data and focused on the calorie monitor that I finally started having fun on a treadmill. Now I'm getting a better workout — even though I'm walking part of the time instead of running the entire session.

To play the calorie-burn game, you need to type your weight into the monitor. If you can't bring yourself to do this — and there was a time when I couldn't, either — get over it! The person on the next machine isn't going to notice and probably can't see what you're typing anyway.

Or type in a fake weight, like the one on your driver's license. You just want to give the machine a number so it can calculate “calories burned.” It doesn't really matter if the number's legit — just so you keep it moving.

The object of the game is simple: Pick a calorie goal, then try different speed/incline ratios to see which ones get you there fastest.

It's amazing how many more calories you burn by increasing your speed just a little bit. At 4 mph — a brisk walk or shuffling jog at 15 minutes a mile — I burn 260 calories an hour. (At my starting weight of 226 pounds, I would've burned 436 calories an hour at this setting.)

Increasing my speed just 1 mph, still a fairly slow jog at 12 minutes per mile, burns more than twice as many calories: 555 per hour.

But it wasn't until I tried the Men's Health experiment that I really saw the possibilities here.

Even though their equation doesn't quite work for me — I burn 609 calories an hour walking 3 mph at a 15 percent incline, and 751 calories an hour running 7 mph at zero incline — it doesn't really matter, because I can't maintain either pace for a full hour.

But when I play the calorie-burn game, I spend at least a few minutes in both settings, along with plenty of other variations.

I once wanted to jettison 200 calories but had only 20 minutes. I knew a 2-mile run would do it, but I'd have to go faster than I wanted to. Instead I walked 3.2 mph on a 15 percent incline. When my time was up, I'd gone only half a mile but burned all 200 calories. (And had the sweat to prove it.)

For me, one of the best combinations is a 4 mph fast hike at 15 percent incline, torching 790 calories an hour or 13 calories a minute. If I start out with 10 minutes on that setting, I burn 130 calories during my “warmup” alone.

You can trick yourself into trying higher speeds and inclines because the quicker you burn those calories, the sooner your workout's over. (When I switch from “hiking the mountain” to jogging, I lower the incline setting — but not right away, so I appreciate it even more when the “slopes” level off.)

With the calorie-burn game, you're never “stuck” in a grind. If you treat the treadmill settings like your TV remote, you can ease up — by “changing the channel” — any time you like.

Tanya Isch Caylor, a News-Sentinel copy editor, blogs on diet and fitness at www.90in9.wordpress.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.


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