Family Matters

Linda McAvoy


Question: How many calories does a person burn while driving?

Please, stop laughing; itís a serious question.Admittedly it comes after a less than successfully encounter with the dreaded treadmill during my annual medical checkup.††

Apparently,ďI drive a lot.Ē is not an acceptable response to queries about oneís fitness regime.

Still, I couldnít help wondering just how much energy a person expends while driving.So I looked it up, and the consensus seems to be that you burn a whopping two calories a minute while driving.Itís isnít exactly clear whether this meager caloric count encompasses just the physical motions involved in driving or also takes into account cognitive activity.Though judging by the antics of some drivers out there, many arenít straining themselves in either category.

Presumably this two-calories-per-minute number applies to driving an automatic car, for surely the extra leg, foot, and stick-shifting action involved in driving a standard must burn more calories.Likewise, any supplemental activities drivers might opt for, such as rockiní along with the radio, handling telecommunications, or greeting others with expressive hand gestures, would also up the count.

That said, and with the possible exception of road rage, driving can by no stretch of the imagination be considered a cardio workout. Obviously if itís exercise you want, itís best to park the car and start walking.

But, if driving is such a low-impact activity, why then do we feel so utterly exhausted after a long road trip? Why after a day of chauffeuring the family about do we feel so frazzled?

Well, hard scientific data is one thing, but those of us in charge of the family wheels know thereís a lot more to the job than just physically manoeuvering a vehicle through traffic.

For instance thereís almost always cargo to contend with; why just last week I loaded and unloaded several heavy cans of paint and a partially sedated dog. And letís not forget all the groceries.I always tote my own. The fact that itís done in sheer defiance of that young whipper-snapper of a bag boy who insists on calling me ďMaíamĒ and always offers his assistance out to the car, is beside the point.

The point is, I regularly expend tons of car-related energy, whether itís slinging super-sized packages of sundries into the back of my truck or scrubbing petrified bird poop off the hood.

Speaking of cleaning cars, there seems to be some discrepancy amongst the so-called experts regarding this activity, with figures range anywhere from 225 calories to 429 for an hourís worth of washing and waxing.Perhaps the problem here is a failure to differentiate between vehicle types. Obviously sudsing up an SUV is a protracted affair requiring sustained aerobic activity, including climbing up and down a stepladder. Likewise with family vehicles, the extra flexibility and stamina involved (for retrieval of under the seat items and extra vigorous scrubbing of upholstery) would account for a much higher energy output.

Unfortunately, it seems the newer a car the less likely its driver is to burn calories. Where once one labouriously cranked up the windows, heaved open doors, and performed awkward contortions to adjust seats, now itís all done with an effortless touch of a button.Owning a 2001 model of Fordís Expedition, I must make do without the newest electric folding seat and am forced therefore to manually pull, lift, carry, and stagger under the weight of the third-row bench.

While itís true modern automotive amenities make staying fit while driving much more difficult, the opportunities for exercise do still exist, if one chooses wisely. Even something as seemingly simple as pumping gas has itís degrees of energy expenditure. While the laziest drivers frequent only full-service gas stations, diligent car owners consciously choose to climb on out of their vehicles and pump their own. Granted the latest pay-at-the-pump feature has eliminated the walk to and from the gas station kiosk, but one could argue that the additional stretching and lifting involved while wielding a squeegee on both front and back windshields would more than compensate for the loss. Please note that here again the size of the vehicle is directly proportionate to the intensity and duration of the window-washing workout.

One final word of caution: any who choose driving for fitness must be aware that it requires a great deal of skill and self-discipline.There is little room for error.Many attempt to go the distance but are soon led astray. Succumbing to the lure of a drive-thru lane, indulging in a frenzy of dashboard dining, or simply popping a breath mint en route; these undisciplined drivers fail miserably, ultimately negating everything theyíve tried so hard and driven so far to accomplish.