Nope, it's not spending more time exercising...
treadmill workout
Getty / Tawan Chaisom / EyeEm
| Credit: Getty / Tawan Chaisom / EyeEm

Two out of every three American adults don't hit the suggested amount of activity minutes per week (150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous movement), according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

While we're not about meticulously tracking calories in and calories out and anxiously stepping on the scale each morning here at EatingWell—we are all about health and keeping our bodies strong and running in good shape. So, what if we could get more out of the time we dedicate to working out rather than fretting so much about how long we do it for? Because we get it: With potentially working (and teaching) from home, the added stressors of 2020, cooking from scratch more often and trying to find some time for self-care, spending more time at a gym or in your home gym isn't always the most desirable or doable. (Or safe, if you're sweating at a large, public gym, which has been proven to be one of the higher-risk pandemic activities, per a Texas Medical Association ranking.)

Enter, a new study from the American Council on Exercise (ACE) that pinpoints which cardio machines offer the most impact for your time.

John P. Porcari, Ph.D., and his research team from the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse had 16 adults use 10 common indoor exercise machines to compare how many calories each tool burned relative to the others. Note this is a fairly small study, but the results can still offer some insights about what machines might be most worth your investment. They investigated the:

  • Treadmill
  • Stepmill (the tall rotating stairway that simulates walking up stairs) or stairmaster
  • Rower
  • Recumbent stepper (a seated machine that involves marching your feet)
  • Recumbent bike (with a more reclined format than a spin bike)
  • Arm ergometer (picture bike pedals for your arms only)
  • Exercise fan bike (AKA an assault bike or air bike for all of the CrossFitters out there)
  • Elliptical
  • Upright bike (think of the classic spin or typical stationary bike)
  • Arc trainer (similar to an elliptical)

Based on 30-minute sessions on each of the ten different cardio machines, the researchers determined standing, weight-bearing exercises burned more calories than seated ones. The top four calorie-burning machines:

  1. Treadmill
  2. Stepmill or Stairmaster
  3. Elliptical
  4. Stationary Bike

So if your sweat session timespan is limited, lean into cardio options that allow you to stay closer to a standing position and keep more of your weight near your feet. This will allow you to engage your core and larger lower body muscles and give your heart more of a workout, too. And don't forget to add in some strength training and flexibility work, as exercise is about balance and *so* much more than torching a certain number of calories.