Heart Smart Living
Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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How Many Calories Do I Really Need?

Now that holiday season is upon us, it’s time to pull out those party clothes and get ready to face down the buffet lines. If you’ve gained a little weight since the weather cooled off, this is a good time to get back on track. Or maybe you’re happy right where you are, but worried about gaining a few pounds from making the rounds of family, office, and neighborhood celebrations.

No matter whether you’re worried about zipping up that fancy dress or enduring the scrutiny of your ultracompetitive siblings, your weight really does matter. Overweight and obesity are major contributors to high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, arthritis, lung disease, and cancer. You may know all about the elements of a healthy diet, but if you’re eating too much or exercising too little, the pounds are going to add up.

There are many terrific apps for your smart phone and computer that make calorie tracking easy (I like MyFitnessPal and SparkPeople), but I’ll show you a simple calculation that you can do right now to find out roughly how many calories you need every day.

Calculating The Numbers

First, calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This is the bare minimum number of calories your body would need to maintain its normal function at your current weight if you did no activity or exercise at all.  Simply multiply your weight by 10. If you weigh 150 pounds, then your BMR is 150 x 10, or 1500 calories.

Next, decide (honestly) how active you are every day. If you’re pretty sedentary, sitting at a desk all day and watching TV in the evening, multiply your BMR by 20%, then add that number to your BMR. For instance, if you weight 150 lbs, then 1500 x 20%= 300, and 1500 + 300= 1800. That means you’ll need 1800 calories to maintain your weight.

If you are mildly active, walking for a few hours every day, multiply by 30%. If you consider yourself moderately active (your job is physically active, or you exercise several days every week), then multiply your BMR by 40%. If you’re extremely active, and rarely sit down during the day, you can multiply by 50%. Add the two numbers together, and you’re done.

Online Tools to Help You

If you want to run the same calculation without doing the math, the American Cancer Society website has a quick and easy BMR calculator. Baylor College of Medicine has a similar calculator that also takes age and gender into consideration.

The next step is counting up the calories you eat and burn. Most of us tend to underestimate the amount of food we eat and overestimate the calories we spend.  Once you start measuring and tracking your numbers, you may find that losing that unwanted weight and maintaining a healthy body size is more realistic than you think.

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About the Author


Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.