When I go for a walk at lunch time, my pedometer says I only burned 85 calories. Then when I use the elliptical for 30 min at night it says I burned 250 or so. If you consider a tub of yogurt can be about 110 calories, these little numbers can be discouraging.
However, it's not about how much you burn right then and there, but how much extra calories you burn in a week to the amount you'd have burned by not exercising:
They call it your "resting metabolic rate": in this site you can estimate yours: http://www.shapeup.org/interactive/rmr1.php
Mine is 1590 (that's how many calories I burn in a day without exercising).
They say it takes 3500 calories burned to lose 1lb of fat. Look at it on a weekly basis, and it's down to math:
Resting Met. Rate: 1590 x 7 = 11130
Walking 20 min @ lunch: 85 x 5 = 425
30 Min on Elliptical: 250 x 4 = 1000
30 Min Strength training: 100 x 4 = 400
60 Min Zumba class: 3 x 589 = 1767
Total burned in a week: 14722
(about 3500 extra to my resting metabolic rate)
If I eat about 1600 calories a day, I'm guaranteed to lose 1 lb of fat a week by this equation.
Don't you wish life were that simple?
How can my weight loss efforts come down to a math equation? I'm a numbers person, so when I see things this way, it takes the mystery out of burning fat. My goal is not just to lose weight: it is also to burn more calories than I ingest and in turn, burn fat while building muscle (did I mention muscle burns more fat?)
I feel like I've been spreading a lot of calorie burning wisdom (most of this I learned from the people at my gym), so here is another one:
Just like cars, we burn more fuel in "stop and go traffic" than at a constant speed. That's why the interval function on machines is so popular (and more effective!)
Next time you're at the treadmill or elliptical, try the interval mode. It's way more challenging and burns more calories for the time you spend there.