Jobs -- The steps we take and the calories we burn

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Is it possible to increase your activity level just by changing jobs? Well, it may not be practical, but some jobs actually can keep you in shape. However, any movement at all burns calories, and perhaps that's why public health advocates are consistently recommending that you just get out there and move. Even if that movement is small, it still helps.

In fact, physical activity need not be strenuous to achieve health benefits. Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, stroke, coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer and osteoporosis, as well as to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

And recently, a study by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and the Exercise and Health Program of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, looked at 10 different occupations and how many steps they require each day.

Why is it important to know the number of steps taken on your job? "Given the fact that most Americans spend a considerable amount of their waking hours at work, we thought it might be helpful to enlighten them regarding the relative amount of physical activity associated with their jobs. Having this information may raise their awareness of how much or how little activity they get on a routine workday and serve as motivation for them to make appropriate activity-related lifestyle changes," says Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D., chief science officer of ACE.

The average person accumulates 3,000 to 5,000 steps per day; the goal is to increase that number by about 20 percent per month and eventually achieve 10,000 steps per day.

Here are a few occupations measured by the ACE study. See if you can figure out which ones use more steps.

Police officers vs. lawyers
It's actually pretty close, but a police officer takes a few more steps per hour. Lawyers take 633 steps per hour, whereas police officers take 663, but both occupations fall short by almost half of the 10,000 steps recommended per day.

Nurses vs. restaurant servers
Restaurant servers take about 1,772 steps per hour, whereas nurses take about 986. But restaurant workers are always around great food, so you need to take into account the "nibble" factor. If you take a taste every time you pop back into the kitchen, those nibbles add up.

Custodians vs. construction workers
At 1,624 per hour, custodians take more steps than construction workers, who take about 1,206. That makes sense, if you think about the area a custodian has to cover, walking all over a building, sweeping, cleaning and maintaining.

Mail carriers vs. factory workers
You probably guessed correctly that mail carriers walk a lot; in fact, the ACE study found that they take a whopping 1,906 steps per hour, which adds up to about 15,250 steps in an eight-hour day -- 5,250 more than the recommended 10,000. Factory workers' steps vary depending on the factory and what they're doing, but on average they take about 989 steps per hour.

What if you already take 10,000 steps and you're still overweight?

You can have an active job, be taking 10,000 steps -- or more -- and still be overweight. Your body requires a certain number of calories to provide energy for you to function. If you exceed your calorie "budget," the excess energy is stored as fat.

So, even if someone meets certain average goals for steps, if he's eating more calories than he's burning, he will not lose weight unless he increases his activity beyond what he's already doing. For instance, if you are 50 pounds overweight and are already taking about 10,000 steps per day at your job, you would need to increase your steps, or perhaps add other activities, as well as decrease your overall calorie intake in order to lose weight.

How many calories does working at my job burn?

Steps burn calories, but exactly how many varies from person to person. The more you weigh, the more you burn. An average person (155 pounds) burns approximately 100 to 105 calories per 2,000 steps. To be more accurate, however, we would need to know the individual's walking speed and the incline at which he was walking. If you want to know the average rate at which your job burns calories, take a look at the following (based on a 155-pound person):

  • Masseur: 280 calories per hour
  • Child care: 211 calories per hour
  • House care: 246 calories per hour
  • Clerical work, secretary, administrative assistant: 106 calories per hour
  • Shoe repair: 170 calories per hour
  • Store clerk: 162 calories per hour
  • Tailor: 176 calories per hour
  • Physical education teacher: 282 calories per hour
  • Firefighter: 845 calories per hour
  • Electrician or plumber: 247 calories per hour
  • Jockey (horse racing): 564 calories per hour
  • Police officer driving a squad car: 141 calories per hour; riding in a squad car: 91 calories per hour

How to increase your steps

If you're interested in burning more calories on the job, here are a few suggestions:

  • Casual is better: Wear casual clothing to work, if possible, to increase your likelihood of taking more steps. An ACE study showed an eight percent increase in physical activity levels and an extra 25 calories burned (per day) on casual clothing workdays versus those days when conventional office attire was worn.
  • Walk to work: Not everyone can do this, but if you can, great. However, if you do take your car, parking farther away in the lot will increase your steps.
  • Measure everything: Using a pedometer is probably one of the more effective ways to motivate yourself to take more steps. You simply strap it on to your waist, and it will keep track of your steps. One good pedometer, the Digi-Walker SW-200, is available at for about $17.
  • Climb it: Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Walking meetings: Instead of sitting around and possibly eating unhealthy foods, have your meetings while you walk (depending on the type of meeting). Or, if you can't convince your colleagues to do that, try walking to your out-of-office meetings.
  • Stand tall: Hold meetings without chairs so participants are required to stand. Your meetings will probably become more time-efficient, too.
  • Use your head: Obtain a phone headset and stand, or better yet pace, during calls.
  • Old school: Walk to a co-worker's desk instead of e-mailing or calling him or her.