Calories Used Per Hour by Weight and Activity Level

Source: Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home (1919)

People have wondered for a long time how exercise and other activities affect the number of calories needed. A 1919 home economics textbook contained this table with U.S. Department of Agriculture data on the “average calorific requirements of the body under different conditions.” The book contained examples of how the table could be used to calculate the number of calories needed by an individual:

A woman of about 130 pounds, sleeping for 8 hours, doing light housework 10 hours, reading, etc. 6 hours, would require (8 X 56) + (10 X 148) + (6 X 87) = 2,450 calories.  A boy of about the same weight with 8 hours sleep, 8 hours active exercise, 6 hours playing tennis (severe exercise) and 2 hours quiet would require (8 X 56) + (8 X 165) + (6 X 390) + (2 X 87) = 4,282 calories.   

Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home by Christine Frederick (1919)

hmm. . . I wonder if the information in the 1919 table is still considered correct.

32 thoughts on “Calories Used Per Hour by Weight and Activity Level

  1. I don’t know about the numbers, but I did think it interesting that they used the word ‘calorific’ rather than ‘caloric.’ I don’t remember coming across ‘calorific,’ although it’s certainly in the dictionary.

    The Online Etymology Dictionary adds this little note in their entry on ‘calorie’: “Calorie-counting or -watching as a method of scientific weight-regulation is attested by 1908.” It didn’t take long for the practice to be accepted and make it into the textbooks!

    1. Wow, it’s amazing how quickly information about calories went from being something that was just discovered to being included in textbooks. Calorific was a new word for me, too.

  2. 6 hours for reading, etc.! How I envy those people. Not so much the 10 hours of housework, which wouldn’t always be so light and most of the time harder than tennis at least. I don’t see how tennis qualifies as severe exercise.

  3. Sounds about right. What I’m wondering if thinking about playing tennis for six hours 🥵…helps me use up some calories…😂😂

  4. Hmmm – for today’s woman, doing “light housework” would involve burning a lot fewer calories per hour, I bet. I’m a woman of about 130 lbs who sleeps for 8 hours when I can get away with it, and my recommended calorie intake for weight maintenance is only about 1500per day, per my Kaiser Permanente resource.

    1. I also thought that 2,450 calories sounded like a lot of calories for a woman. I think you’re right that “light housework” wasn’t really all that light a hundred years ago.

  5. Personally, with no scientific backup, I believe the table showing calories burned by exercise is pure myth. I can sit quietly, looking at the picture of a cake, and feel the calories pouring in.

    1. It’s a fairly typical home economics textbook. I enjoy it because it provides a nice window into what was considered the proper way to cook, clean, and manage homes back then.

      This was the era when it was believed that women should manage their homes in a scientific way just as men had jobs that required them to follow scientific principles. The belief was that this would result in women who felt fulfilled as homemakers and homes that were well-managed.

    1. Thanks for sharing the link. Lillian Moller Gilbreth sounds like a really interesting woman. I wasn’t familiar with her until I read your comment. I’m going to get Cheaper by the Dozen out of the library. I’d heard the title, but hadn’t realized that it was a humorous story about the application of time and motion studies to the organization of a family.

    1. I think that the concept of calories (and a method to measure them) was developed in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s, so this was a new idea. Increased leisure time may have also made it a topic of more interest. Additionally, in the early 20th century, there was interest in feeding a family as healthily and inexpensively as possible – and figuring out calories so that everyone got what they needed was a part of that.

        1. Yes, that’s my understanding. Back then there was concern about people not getting enough to eat. It makes me realize how lucky we are today. That said, I also seen hundred-year-old articles about how people should try to avoid becoming “stout” as they aged.

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