Core Lesson

Steppin' into Fitness to Find an Energy Balance


Lesson Overview:

Healthy weight management centers on the calories we take in versus the calories we burn. Maintaining an energy balance between caloric intake and caloric expenditure likely leads to a healthy and active lifestyle. This lesson will help students recognize that balance, in part by realizing that moderate physical activity and vigorous physical activity can burn equal numbers of calories, but at different rates. In the lesson, students will determine how many steps it would take to walk a mile. They will estimate how far they think they can travel in 30 minutes and then calculate how far they walked. Students will also estimate calories burned in the process.  Building a scenario of hiking the Appalachian Trail, the distance traveled in 30 minutes and the calories expended will lead to other calculations related to the level of physical activity (time and distance traveled) and potential calories burned.

The core activity can be integrated into many subject areas. In a teaching team approach, this unit can be very effective in illustrating the concept of energy balance.


Content Standards Addressed:

Common Core State Standards

National Standards 


Learning Objectives:

 By completing this lesson, students should:

  • Recognize that differences in terrain, traveling speed and amount of weight carried all affect the number of calories burned in the process.
  • Understand caloric intake has a direct relationship with energy expenditure and the intensity of exercise directly affects the cardio-respiratory system.
  • Learn if they eat more calories than they used, their weight will increase; similarly, if they eat fewer calories than they use, their weight will decrease.
  • Develop direct correlations between an activity and what it would be like to perform daily tasks when overweight.

Materials Needed:

  • Copies of handouts/worksheets (provided).
  • Computers/calculators.
  • Samples of a variety of food labels with nutritional information, especially calories, or copies of the Look on the Label handout and food chart.
  • Measuring tapes.
  • Backpacks (students can use their bookbags and books can be used for weight).
  • Scale.
  • Stopwatches or clocks.



You should be familiar with the formulas for figuring caloric needs without the benefit of an online calculator. This lesson uses the Harris Benedict Formula (described in the Important Terms section). Additionally, it is good to know about the Appalachian Trail -- the centerpiece of the scenario with which students work.

As preparation for Lesson Step 3, consult the Calories Count Calculator to come up with the calorie counts for 8-10 food items (to be written on the board or overhead). The food items should represent different parts of a meal, to give students ideas for the menus they create in Lesson Step 4.

As an alternative, use the following calorie counts to write on the board or overhead:

  • orange juice = 111.6 (1 cup, fresh)
  • 2% milk = 130.0 (1 cup)
  • Cheerios = 110.0 (1 cup)
  • apple = 71.8 (medium size)
  • mashed potatoes = 237.3 (1 cup, homemade)
  • cheeseburger = 359.0 (fast food)
  • white bread = 80.0 (1 slice)
  • chicken = 193.0 (1 drumstick, fried)
  • spaghetti = 210.0 (2 oz.)
  • chocolate bar = 230.0 (1 Hershey's bar)

Important Terms:

Calories - The energy-producing potential found in foods, released upon oxidation in the body.

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) - A person's BMR is a baseline for daily calorie needs that does not account for the amount of physical activity throughout the day.

Harris Benedict Formula - A formula that uses BMR multiplied by a variable related to an individual's physical activity level to determine that individual's recommended daily calorie intake.

The Harris Benedict formula for figuring out BMR for males is:

  • BMR = 66 + (13.7 X weight in kg) + (5 X height in cm) - (6.8 X age in years).

For females, it is:

  • BMR = 655 + (9.6 X weight in kg) + (1.8 X height in cm) - (4.7 X age in years).

[Metric Conversion: 1 lb. = 0.453 kg]

The activity factor (the variable multiplied to the BMR) ranges from 1.2 for sedentary lifestyle to 1.9 for an extremely active lifestyle.

Appalachian Trail - Stretching across 2050 miles from Maine to Georgia, the Appalachian Trail is a popular hiking path and also the world's longest continuous mountain trail.

Taking your pulse - To take your resting heart rate, place your index and middle fingers together on the opposite wrist, about 1/2 inch from the wrist joint, in line with the index finger. When you find a pulse, count the number of beats you feel within a 15-second period and then multiply by four. (The typical resting heart rate is between 60 and 80 beats per minute for ages 10 through adult.) You should always use your fingers, not your thumb, to take a pulse.

Suggested Lesson Steps:

1. Ask students to estimate the amount of calories they need each day, as well as the amount they consume each day. Do not give them any hints -- this is a way to gauge how much they already know about calories. Have a handful of students share their estimates.

2. As you pass out or display the Carefully Calculating Calories reproducible, discuss what students know (or think they know) about calories. Then give students the opportunity to read the reproducible, calculate their BMRs and estimate the number of calories they require each day.

3. Write the food items and associated calorie counts you chose (in the Background section) on the board or overhead. Have students try to guess what the number represent. If they don't come up with "calories," tell them the answer and then provide a brief definition of calories (see Important Terms).

4. Divide the class into groups of 3-4 students. Each group should quickly create a menu for what they think is a low-calorie meal and one for what they think is a high-calorie meal. (Encourage them to have each of the food groups represented in both menus.)

5. Distribute the food labels (or copies of the reproducibles) to each group. From the labels and the food items written on the board, students should be able to get a rough estimate of the calories for each of their meals. Additionally, have each group identify from the labels the food with the most surprising number of calories -- i.e., either more or fewer calories than expected. Ask students to share which foods they chose.

6. To help provide a transition to the next part of the lesson, ask students: In addition to food, what is the other ingredient to caloric balance? After they come up with the fact that exercise/physical activity affects caloric balance, have each of the groups measure out an area. This will serve as their space to estimate the number of steps to walk a mile, to figure out how far they can walk in 30 minutes, etc. Ideally, their area will be at least the distance around a basketball court, but could also be around the block, the school or even the classroom if space is limited. Distribute the worksheet How Many Steps to Katahdin? Have students complete the worksheet.

7. After students complete the worksheet, ask them how changing the pace would affect their physical activity. Among their answers should be:

  • Generally a more intense workout.
  • Greater distance in a shorter period of time.
  • Increased number of calories burned.
  • Increased heart rate.

8. Have students measure their pulse rate three times: at rest, after walking a couple of laps (depending on the size of the area), and after completing that same distance in roughly half of the time. (If you want to extend deeper into pulse rates, this is a good place to do it. At minimum, students should understand pulse rates are a good barometer for the intensity of an activity, as well as a sign of improved health when the pulse rate goes down over time for the same activity.) Instruct the students to count their heart rate in 15-second blocks and then multiply that number by four.

9. Remind students they are imagining they are hiking the Appalachian Trail. What else will they need to consider -- what else might make the hike a more intense physical activity? After students come up with hills/mountains and backpacks, pass out the worksheet, How Hard Is It When Carrying A Load? Each student should have his or her bookbag and books. Have each student weight his or her bag on a scale and record the weight. Have students do the activity and complete the worksheet.

10. Bring caloric calculations back into the lesson by introducing the worksheet Calories vs. Energy Expended. Students must figure out the caloric intake necessary to hike for eight hours.​

11. To close the lesson, ask students within their groups to identify (and share) their own "Appalachian Trail" -- in other words, what is a goal that they would like to accomplish that centers on physical activity and/or diet? (The goals will not seem as bold as hiking 2,000 miles, but they are important to those who set them, no matter how big and bold they might seem.) Invite students to share where they are now in their physical activity frequency and/or diet and where they want to go (their goal). With the goals identified, groups should create an "Appalachian Trail" chart for everyone to write down where they are currently and what their goals are. (The chart can be done anonymously.)

Related Links:

Body Mass Index Calculator

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy

National Trails System


Other Helpful Sites:

Physical Fitness Tips

Calories In Foods and Calories Burned



Academic Extensions/Modifications:

  • If space to create a measurable area to walk is limited, shift the focus to jumping rope (using the jump ropes provided with the curriculum!) The lesson will lose its connection to the Appalachian Trail, but jumping rope is an excellent way for students to engage in physical activity and complete mathematical computations on rotations (jumps) per unit of time, as opposed to distance per unit of time.
  • Have students measure their walking span. Spill some water on the sidewalk to form a puddle. Have the student walk through the puddle onto the dry pavement.
  • Use pedometers (if available) to measure steps and/or heart rate monitors (if available) to measure pulse rate and target zones.
  • Have students create an Energy Balance portfolio, collecting their completed worksheets that help chart what their energy balance should be.
  • Use the Internet resources to learn more about the Appalachian Trail. For example, students can learn about popular sections of the trail and determine which they would most like to hike.


Assessment Criteria

  1. Class participation.
  2. The Appalachian Trail worksheets.
  3. You can also assign a reflective writing assignment at the end of the lesson that asks students to identify the obstacles(s) to the completion of their caloric balance goal.​​