The Diet Detective: Unconventional Activities That Burn Calories

The best way to lose weight is to do some kind of activity every day. The best exercise is walking; however, it's also important to do other activities to help burn even more calories and create an active lifestyle. Here are a few alternative activities and the calories they burn. Please note that these burn rates apply only when you're actually doing something, not when you're simply standing around, such as in the outfield waiting for someone to hit the ball your way.

Hacky Sack (aka Footbag) vs. Paddleball vs. Kickball

Developed in the 1970s by two Oregonians, a Hacky Sack is a crocheted bag slightly smaller than a tennis ball that weighs about 1½ to 2 ounces. The bag is filled with sand, pebbles, beans or beads. The idea is to use your feet to keep the footbag in the air as long as you can. You can also play with other people simply by standing in a circle and passing the bag around, again trying to keep it in the air. Hacky Sack burns about 281 calories per hour.
Paddleball, similar to handball but played with a paddle, burns about 422 calories per hour. The game is fast-paced and great exercise. (For more information:
Kickball is pretty easy to play and can be loads of fun. The rules are similar to baseball, and it can be played almost anywhere. It burns about 492 calories per hour of actual play (which doesn't include the waiting-around parts). Check out the World Adult Kickball Association Web site at for an explanation of the rules and assistance in locating an organized league near you.

Pulling Weeds vs. Croquet vs. Lawn Bowling

Gardening does burn calories. In fact, getting on your hands and knees and crawling around pulling weeds can burn about 316 calories per hour.
Lawn bowling is not about setting up pins on your weed-free lawn; it's actually more similar to bocce ball than regular bowling. You need about 70 to 120 feet of lawn to create a "bowling green," but if you're not playing a major competition, I'm sure you could make it a bit shorter. The idea is to get your lawn bowling ball, which is slightly larger than your hand, near the "jack," which is a pool cue-ball-sized white ball placed in the distance. Lawn bowling burns about 211 calories per hour. (For more information:
Croquet is another lawn game, and it burns about 176 calories per hour. You need mallets, which are sticks with a hammer-like bottom, to strike the croquet ball. The idea is to move the balls through the hoops (or wickets) on the course. Croquet sets can be purchased for about $120, and you can set up the course in your backyard. For more information:

Table Tennis (pingpong) vs. Squash

If you know anything about squash, you'll know it's the clear winner in terms of calorie burn ­ about 844 calories per hour. Squash is a racquet sport played with a hollow rubber ball on an indoor court and using several walls. (For more information: and Unfortunately, finding a squash court is not always easy or free. Your best bet would be to look for a squash club in your area and take lessons--it's not that easy to learn.
Table tennis is a fun, simple way to burn calories. The cost of a pingpong or table tennis table starts at about $250. The table is 9 feet long and five feet wide, and you will probably need about four to six feet on each end and about three to four feet on each side to actually play the game. Table tennis burns 281 calories per hour. (For more information:   Just for the record, regular tennis burns about 562 calories per hour if you're playing singles.

Canoeing vs. Kayaking vs. Paddle Boating

Canoeing is romantic, fun, relaxing and can provide hours of entertainment. It also burns from about 211 to 490 calories per hour, depending on how hard you're paddling. You can go to a lake, rent a canoe for the day, and take the entire family on an outing. Along those same lines, rowing a boat burns about the same number of calories. Before you try either one, it helps to make sure your core muscles have been strengthened for a few months to avoid back injury. (For more information:
Kayaking is a bit more difficult, but it burns about 350 calories. If you want a more interesting activity, try using a paddleboat, which burns about 281 calories per hour. Go to for information on canoeing and kayaking at the more than 388 National Park Service areas and 3,200 federal recreation areas. You should also check out, and

Horseback Riding

It may look like the horse does all the work, but that's not the case. Horseback riding burns calories and can be hard work. Just sitting on a horse while it's walking can burn about 246 calories per hour; trotting burns 457 calories per hour. There's also a lot more to horses than meets the eye--they're very sensitive animals and will actually "read" your personality type and react. That's probably one of the reasons horses are often used in therapy--it's called equine therapy. Even grooming a horse can help to create emotional growth (and it also burns more than 200 calories per hour).
Charles Stuart Platkin is an Active Expert , nutrition and public health advocate, author of the best seller Breaking the Pattern (Plume, 2005), Breaking the FAT Pattern (Plume, 2006) and Lighten Up (Penguin USA/Razorbill, 2006) and founder of Integrated Wellness Solutions. Sign up for The Diet Detective newsletter free at

Discuss This Article