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You try to watch what you eat, but if you're like most people, you still indulge in many of your favorite foods. While it's okay to enjoy the occasional treat, you need to keep in mind that calories add up fast. If you make a habit of eating too many high-calorie foods, you may soon notice your waistline expanding.

You might think you can burn these extra calories off at the gym. But have you considered just how much exercise you might need to do to torch the amount of calories you get from your favorite foods? Moreover, your favorite foods often come in many sizes--is it really worth the calories to choose the large size over the small? The next time you are tempted to indulge, take a moment consider if your snack of choice is loaded with calories--and how long it might take you to work those calories off.

Balancing Calories & Exercise
You may have heard the phrase "calories in, calories out" as a bottom-line strategy for proper weight maintenance. This simply means that in order to maintain your current weight, you need to take in an equal amount of calories to those you burn off during your day. You gain weight if you take in more calories than you burn, and you lose weight if you burn more calories than you take in.

For example, you might be craving a sugary doughnut for breakfast. A medium-sized frosted cake doughnut contains about 250 calories, and a large doughnut can contain over 350 calories. Are you going to make time to burn those calories off at the gym? And if you do, how long will it take you?

The answer depends on a number of factors. The amount of time it takes to burn off a certain number of calories changes depending on your current weight, and the type of exercise you choose. For example, someone who weighs 150 lbs burns approximately 300 calories per half-hour of swimming, almost 200 calories per half-hour of walking, and over 180 calories per half-hour of yoga. People who weigh more will burn a greater number of calories doing these activities because their bodies are heavier. On the other hand, lighter people burn fewer calories doing the same activities.

So what does this mean? On average, to burn off a 350-calorie doughnut, a person who weighs 150 lbs would have to swim for about 35 minutes, walk for 54 minutes, or attend an hour-long yoga class.

Makes you think twice about that sugary doughnut, doesn't it? Instead of loading up on sugar in the morning, you could opt for a healthier breakfast. A bowl of oatmeal contains only 150 calories, and has more nutrients than a doughnut. Plus, you can work those few calories off with less than a half-hour of walking.

Calories Count at Every Meal
It's important to remember that calories add up throughout your whole day. You might decide to go to the gym to burn off the doughnut you ate for breakfast. But what about the foods you choose at other meals?

Think about some of your favorite lunch foods. How often do you choose to order pizza, or indulge in a burger and fries? A single slice of pizza can be over 300 calories. Even if you only have two slices, you'll have to swim for a full hour to burn off lunch. Worse yet, the burger and fries have even more calories. Depending on the type of burger and the toppings, a fast-food burger can have anywhere from 325 to over 900 calories. A large order of fries can have up to 450 calories. You'd need to walk for quite a few hours to burn off that meal.

Consider choosing some tasty, lower calorie foods for some of your meals. Sandwiches are an excellent choice for lunch--a regular turkey sandwich usually contains approximately 230 calories. Sushi is a fun alternative, and the average California roll has roughly 250 calories. Salads can be a great option too. The caloric content of salads varies depending on the ingredients. If you stick to low-fat dressing and don't load up on cheese, it's easy to create a salad that is less than 250 calories.

The Benefits of Regular Exercise
Trying to balance the number of calories you eat with your exercise level can be confusing. You can choose to take a simpler approach by making an effort to exercise on a regular basis. Exercising regularly will help you maintain your weight and enjoy occasional indulgences with less worry.

American Heart Association Guidelines recommends that adults engage in at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise, or about 30 minutes per day, five days a week. The benefits of regular exercise go beyond maintaining a healthy weight. Exercise can decrease your risk of developing serious diseases like cancer and heart disease. Moreover, getting regular exercise boosts your immune system, increases your circulation, and can help lower your blood pressure.

HealthAhead Hint: Keep Counting
Remember, it all comes down to calories in, calories out. Learn how to moderate your calorie intake to keep it in tune with your level of exercise. Better yet, start eating a well-rounded diet and exercising regularly, so you won't need to worry about the occasional indulgence. Once you start taking steps toward a more active lifestyle, you'll find it's easier to maintain a healthy balance.