4 Unexpected Outdoor Activities That Burn Calories

You Don't Have to Run or Bike to Burn Calories

You know you're doing your heart and lungs a favor when you head outside for a jog or take boot camp class in the park. But in today's world of step counting and heart rate tracking, it's easy to overlook activities that may not rack up lots of steps, but still do your body good.

All movement matters, so the more often you choose to engage in activities that get you away from the couch, the better off you'll be. Check out these unexpected outdoor activities that burn calories and put your body to the test, even from a seated position.


Driving an ATV or Side-by-Side

Polaris RZR Rock Pirates Side by Side
Wildrock Public Relations

Sitting is generally frowned upon in the fitness world, but there's an exception to every rule, especially where rugged terrain is concerned. Sitting on an ATV or a side-by-side as you ride over rocky embankments and through low-water crossings requires core strength and control, as well as mental focus. All of these tax your system and ramp up the calorie burn.

On a side-by-side tour on the Alpine Loop in Silverton, Colorado, my Fitbit tracked my heart rate ranging between 74 beats per minute (BPM) and 130 BPM over the course of the three-hour tour. This ultimately translated to a total calorie burn of 960 calories, at an hourly rate of about 320 calories per hour. That's roughly the same number of calories I'd burn walking at a 3.5 mile per hour pace.

Calorie burn, of course, is affected by your height, weight, sex, age, and muscle mass, as well as the difficulty of the terrain you're riding on. But CalorieLab estimates that a 150-pound person burns about 100 calories per hour riding a motorcycle, which is a good estimate for ATV riding on reasonably level terrain. The same person would burn an estimated 68 calories per hour riding in a car or on a plane.

Research shows that riding an off-road vehicle provides moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise and challenges muscles, especially in the upper body.

Where to Try It

In Silverton, rent a Polaris RZR from Rock Pirates. City ordinances allow you to drive your side-by-side or snowmobile rental directly from the outfitter's downtown Silverton location to the Alpine Loop, where you can explore 65 miles of rugged terrain and unbelievable views. Stop at Animas Forks to explore the ghost town, then (if you're feeling brave) head up to Engineer Pass for a 12,000-foot view.


Horseback Riding

horseback riding

Thomas Northcut / Getty Images

Horseback riding is another seated activity that burns calories at a surprising rate, along with challenging your legs and core as you work to maintain balance.

According to a 2015 study from researchers at Texas A&M University, a 45-minute ride consisting of walking, trotting, and cantering resulted in a calorie burn of about 200 calories over the course of the workout—that translates to about 267 calories per hour, comparable to water aerobics or walking at a brisk pace.

Researchers noted that the intensity, duration, and energy expenditure of such a workout done several times a week would meet physical activity recommendations. The more challenging the ride, the more calories you burn.

Where to Try It

You're likely to find lessons at a stable near your home. On vacation, try a tour like the Equitours Willamette Coast Ride. This five-day, five-night tour starts in Carlton, Oregon, and takes you over the Coastal Range to the Pacific Ocean. You'll enjoy Oregon wine country, stay in cozy inns and bed and breakfasts, and spend five hours a day atop a sturdy steed.


Jet Skiing

Jet skiing
Vieira Antonio / EyeEm / Getty Images

Like ATVing and horseback riding, using a Jet Ski (aka a personal watercraft) means riding in a relatively stationary position, and all three activities require core activation and mental focus. But jet skiing requires even more total-body engagement and control as you stand or crouch while driving the machine (in other words, your quads will be burning). And water, wind, and high speeds make the task more challenging.

Based on estimates from various online calculators, a 150-pound person can expect to burn somewhere between 200 and 475 calories in the course of an hour, depending on how aggressively they're riding the jet ski, and under what conditions. For instance, tackling choppier water at high speeds is much more challenging than smooth waters and slow speeds.

Where to Try It

To add some adventure to your beach vacation, book an excursion with Jet Ski Tours of Miami. The 90-minute tour takes you past the homes of Miami's rich and famous, out to isolated areas without speed limits, past beautiful islands, and through amazing wildlife—you may even see wild dolphins or manatees.



Laura Williams

Sandboarding is much like snowboarding, but it's done on the sand, at slower speeds, and without the benefit of ski lifts to take you back to the top of each sand dune. The boarding itself isn't all that taxing, although you'll feel it in your glutes and quads as you work to keep your balance when sliding down the dune. The truly difficult part is walking back up the sand-covered hill.

Walking through dry sand is incredibly challenging, as you never have completely solid footing. Since the ground reaction force is reduced, you must work harder to push off with each step. Add to that the challenge of climbing a hill and carrying a sandboard. Your entire lower body will protest, and your lungs will burn with the effort, but the break at the top of the hill makes the experience worthwhile.

True calorie-burn estimates for sandboarding are hard to come by, but on a recent sandboarding trip, I burned an estimated average of 262 calories per hour, according to my Fitbit. Not too shabby considering at least half of each hour was spent sitting and recovering between rides and climbs.

Where to Try It

Sand Master Park in Florence, Oregon, is the only sandboarding park in the country. It's a good place to rent a board and test the sands on shorter dunes.

Once you're feeling confident, head south a few miles to Honeyman State Park. You can ride the dunes almost straight into a freshwater lake, or you can hike farther away from the main day-use area to higher, more challenging dunes. The views are stunning in a desolate, barren sort of way.

A Word From Verywell

The moral of the story is that just because your fitness tracker doesn't log steps during all forms of physical activity, that doesn't mean these activities aren't improving your well-being. Gardening, slacklining, skateboarding, and paddleboarding are more activities that don't do much for your step count, but do help you build flexibility, balance, strength, coordination, and mental focus. And when an activity is fun, it keeps you coming back for more.

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3 Sources
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  1. CalorieLab. Calories burned search results for Transportation.

  2. Burr JF, Jamnik VK, Shaw JA, Gledhill N. Physiological demands of off-road vehicle riding. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010;42(7):1345-1354. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181cd5cd3

  3. O'Reilly CL, Sigler DH, Fluckey JD, Vogelsang MM, Sawyer JE. Rider energy expenditure during high intensity horse activity and the potential for health benefitsInt J Exerc Sci. 2015;2(7):44.