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Does height make any difference???
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JeannieY posted:
Hi Rich,

I've always wondered how a person's height may or may not figure into the calories burned/exertion required? For example, I'm only 5'-1" and I normally run at 6.5 to 7mph for 45 minutes to an hour. Would a person who's 5'-6" for example, weighing the same and running at the same speed really burn the same number of calories? It seems over-simplified to calculate calories burned solely based on weight alone. Since my legs are shorter, I would have to work harder (taking more steps) than a taller person, doesn't that make any difference?

Maybe what I'm asking is a stupid question, but I've always wondered.

Thanks,

Jeannie
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Rich Weil, MEd, CDE responded:
Hi Jeannie,

It's a good question. Theoretically, if you weigh the same, then the calories burned will be very similar. The basic physics of it is: work equals force x distance. That is, work equals the number of calories burned, force is body weight, and distance is miles (or however you measure your distance). You can see that body weight is the variable that has the effect on calories burned. With that said, there is biomechanical efficiency to consider. The person who is more efficient will burn fewer calories. That is, if your gait is different, which it could be with height differences (or no height difference), then there will be some effect. For instance, running when you are taller might involve more up and down motion of the hips which would be less efficient. More side-to-side motion would cause energy expenditure to be different. Foot strike can have an effect, and so can lateral distance between the feet during the landing (when feet land right in front of each other it's less efficient than wider because balance is easier when the base is wider. There's also the propulsive forces of pushing off to consider, which are affected by what are called the 'lever arms' (long or short levers), which are determined by the length of bones and the attachments of the tendons into the bones (less efficient lever arms, where greater force is necessary to propel the limb, will be a factor). Of course, attachments of the tendons could make up for bone length, and efficiency of the gait could make up for some of this too - the most efficient gait is one where the timing is such that the leg and arm swing are as smooth as a pendulum (a short leg could still be much less efficient than a long one). Stability and posture all have an effect as well. Less stability in the gait, or poorer posture, will cause more calories to be burned. And of course, the more fit you are the less likely you are to fatigue, and fatigue will have a detrimental effect on efficiency. There are even more factors to consider, but you get the idea.

So the answer isn't simple, and unless you could enter all of these factors into the equation, then the only real way to know for sure is to compare the two individuals in a lab where you can measure energy expenditure with the proper equipment and under controlled conditions.

I hope that helps!

Rich
 
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JeannieY responded:
Thanks Rich. It's a lot more complicated than I thought.
 
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Rich Weil, MEd, CDE replied to JeannieY's response:
You're welcome. It is complicated, but one simple thing you could do is compare heart rates. The correlation between heart rates and calories burned is fairly good and so you could get at least a ballpark estimate of who is burning more.

Take care,
Rich


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