Does driving burn more calories than sitting?

Driving versus sitting – which one burns more calories? This question often comes up when comparing sedentary behaviors like sitting versus activities like driving that require some physical movement. The quick answer is that yes, driving does burn slightly more calories than just sitting thanks to the physical actions required to drive. However, the difference is fairly small.

Calories burned while driving

Driving requires your body to perform a variety of physical tasks including holding and turning the steering wheel, pressing the accelerator and brake pedals, looking around for hazards, and more. These minor physical motions add up to burn some extra calories.

According to estimates, driving a car burns around 100 calories per hour. The exact amount can vary based on your weight and the intensity of your driving:

  • A 120 lb person may burn around 80 calories per hour of driving
  • A 180 lb person may burn 100 calories per hour
  • Aggressive stop-and-go driving in traffic may burn 130+ calories per hour

So the average driver burns about 100 calories for every 60 minutes spent behind the wheel. This calorie burn adds up over longer drives. Driving for 3 hours would burn around 300 calories total.

Calories burned while sitting

Sitting itself requires very little physical exertion from your body. You engage far fewer muscles when sitting still versus actively driving a car.

Simply sitting in a chair or on the couch burns about 80 calories per hour for most adults. Again, this can fluctuate a bit depending on your weight:

  • A 120 lb person may burn 60 calories per hour of sitting
  • A 180 lb person may burn around 80 calories per hour

So sitting around for an hour results in about an 80 calorie burn, compared to around 100 calories burned from driving that same hour.

Additional factors that influence calorie burn

Beyond just the core actions of driving versus sitting, other factors can also influence how many calories you burn:

  • Intensity – Intense periods of driving, like rush hour traffic, require more physical activity and burn more calories than leisurely cruising with little traffic.
  • Vehicle size – The size of your vehicle impacts the exertion required. Driving a large truck, for example, burns more calories than driving a small sedan because it requires more muscular effort to steer and operate the controls.
  • Road conditions – Bumpy and winding roads demand more constant adjustments than smooth, straight highways. This can result in a slight calorie burn increase during driving.
  • Body position – Proper posture burns more calories than slouching since your core muscles must actively engage to keep you upright.
  • AC use – Having the AC on requires your body to work harder to maintain its core temperature, resulting in more calories burned.
  • Music – Listening to upbeat music that makes you tap your fingers and nod your head can burn extra calories compared to sitting still in silence.

So while driving inherently burns more calories than sitting, various external factors can further influence just how many extra calories get burned during time spent behind the wheel.

Exact calorie burn differences

Now that we’ve looked at estimates for both activities, how many more calories does driving burn compared to sitting?

The difference amounts to around 20-40 calories per hour.

An 120 lb person:

  • Sitting burns 60 calories/hour
  • Driving burns 80 calories/hour
  • Difference of 20 calories/hour

A 180 lb person:

  • Sitting burns 80 calories/hour
  • Driving burns 100 calories/hour
  • Difference of 20 calories/hour

So for most people, driving burns about 20-40 more calories per hour than just sitting around. Over the course of a 1 hour drive, that’s a difference of a handful of almonds.

Certainly driving requires more energy expenditure from your body than sitting completely still. But the real calorie burn differences are fairly small.

Long term calorie impact

Over the short term, the extra calories burned from driving versus sitting are minimal. But what about the long term impact for people who spend hours driving each day?

For example:

  • A delivery driver may drive 4 hours a day
  • With a 25 calorie/hour difference between driving and sitting
  • That’s 100 extra calories burned from driving daily
  • 700 extra calories burned per week
  • 36,400 extra calories burned per year

For people who drive many hours per day as part of their job, the calories add up over time. Those extra 36,400 calories could translate to over 10 lbs of fat if eating habits stay the same.

So in the long run, people with high driving time as part of their occupation may see more substantial calorie burn differences compared to sitting. But for most people doing occasional driving, the immediate calorie differences are modest.

Other benefits of driving

Beyond just calorie burn, driving has other health and lifestyle impacts compared to prolonged sitting:

  • Reduced blood pressure – The minor physical activity of driving may help lower blood pressure compared to sitting.
  • Increased mental stimulation – Driving requires more mental engagement and alertness versus zoning out during long sitting periods.
  • Ability to get around – Driving allows people to access work, shopping, socializing and other activities that involve more calorie burn than just sitting at home.
  • Time savings versus walking/biking – Driving allows you to get to destinations faster than just using your own locomotion.

So while the direct calorie burn differences are minimal, driving facilitates a more active lifestyle overall compared to sitting for prolonged periods.

Ways to burn more calories while driving

If you want to ramp up the amount of calories burned during routine driving, there are a few simple tips:

  • Open the windows to reduce AC use and engage your core muscles more to stabilize against wind.
  • Adjust your seat to be more upright to engage your back and core muscles during driving.
  • Play energetic music and move to the beat by tapping your fingers and nodding your head.
  • Shift gears manually instead of using cruise control to engage your arms and shoulders.
  • Take scenic routes with more turns and elevation changes to activate your core.
  • Resist the urge to speed or engage in other risky driving that could lead to accidents.

Making a few small tweaks to engage your muscles more during ordinary driving can help add to the small calorie burn advantage it already has over sitting. But always drive safely – burning extra calories shouldn’t come at the expense of increased crash risks.

Downsides of excessive driving

While driving does have some calorie burning benefits, keep in mind that excessive time behind the wheel also comes with health and environmental downsides:

  • Obesity risk – Driving frequently links to increased weight gain over time due to lack of physical activity compared to walking/biking.
  • Higher stress – Lengthy commutes and congested traffic can significantly raise stress hormone levels.
  • Increased pollution – More driving leads to higher greenhouse gas emissions and poorer air quality.
  • Higher crash risk- More time on the road increases the odds of being involved in an accident.
  • Social isolation – Solo driving prevents social interaction that could occur walking, biking or on public transit.

So despite the minor calorie burn advantage, it’s important to balance driving with other more active and sustainable transportation options for your health and the environment.


Driving does result in a slightly higher calorie expenditure compared to sitting – about 20-40 more calories burned per hour on average. This difference comes from the physical motions involved in operating a vehicle.

For those who drive many hours daily for their occupation, calories can add up significantly over time. But for most people doing moderate routine driving, the immediate calorie burn advantage over sitting is fairly small.

Beyond just calories, driving facilitates transportation to work, shopping and social activities that involve more movement than remaining sedentary. However, excessive driving carries other health and environmental risks to be mindful of.

So while driving has a slight calorie burn edge, it shouldn’t replace more active forms of transportation like walking or biking when feasible. But for needed trips, the minor calorie boost can start to make a difference over time.

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