Fitness Breakdown: Classic Fall Activities

We asked an exercise scientist how many calories your favorite autumn activities really burn.

apple picking

Yes, this counts towards your daily activity goals. Apple picking photo by Lisa decotis.

Fall in New England is a special time of year, when everyone becomes a leaf peeper and pumpkin everything infiltrates local restaurants. It also comes with a classic to-do list of activities, from apple picking to a Thanksgiving Day game of touch football. But are the calories burned raking leaves really a workout?

“Sometimes, the things like raking leaves or picking apples and doing fall activities can add up to the 150 minutes per week to accumulate as far as physical activity,” says Greg Cloutier, project manager at Northeastern University’s Exercise Science Laboratory. “That’s a perfect way of getting some of that in and also getting your yard cleaned up and enjoying yourself outside.”

To help plan your exercise this weekend, we asked Cloutier how many calories your favorite autumn traditions burn.

Apple Picking
Calories burned*: 100

Apple picking may not be a rigorous workout, but Cloutier says it’s a good way to enjoy the fall while squeezing in some moderate exercise. “If you’re really fit, then it’s not doing that much more. If you’re someone who’s relatively sedentary, then picking apples can be a great way to use your legs, your arms, you’re reaching up overhead, you’re picking up baskets,” he says. “For someone who’s generally sedentary throughout the week, it’s a great way to add in some physical activity.”

Raking Leaves
Calories burned: 100 to 150

“It’s a great physical activity,” Cloutier says. “It’s a great upper body [workout] for people who maybe mainly stick to running or jogging or stair climbing. Now they’re using upper body and doing some trunk rotations, so that’s core work.” Cloutier’s only recommendation: Don’t always rake with your dominant hand. “As long as you learn to switch over to the other side, that way you’ll be balanced,” he says.

Carving Pumpkins
Calories burned: Slightly more than 40

“When you carve a pumpkin, you cut your finger, you run to the emergency room, that’s a lot of calories,” Cloutier jokes. Unfortunately, without emergency room runs, he says making your jack-o-lantern is just above rest-level calorie burning.

Touch Football
Calories burned: 200

The classic Thanksgiving Day touch football game is a tradition worth keeping, Cloutier says. “It’s stop-and-go, intermittent activity—but it’s kind of explosive, so it’s a great exercise to think about moving quickly, because as we get a little older we tend to lose that ability to move quickly,” he says. “Also, they just ate probably 3,000 calories, so if they at least do some physical activity they may burn off some of those calories.”

Leaf Peeping
Calories burned: 80 to 100

As long as your leaf peeping is done on foot, not from the window of your car, Cloutier says it can count as moderate physical activity. “Walking is a good start,” he says. “It’s better than nothing, much better than sitting, but we always encourage people maybe to do a little more.”

*All calorie estimates are for a half hour of activity by a 150-pound person.