SOUND MIND, SOUND BODY - Night flight packs a lot more than gifts

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Every year, Santa Claus has a huge job to fulfill and a huge gut to fill.

Flying around the world, filling stockings and placing presents under Christmas trees, Santa needs to be energized with calories and liquids.

This red-nosed fella has millions of American households to visit in one night!

Most households with children -- about 15 percent of American households -- leave a glass of milk and cookies. We can estimate that two Nabisco cookies and one glass of milk is equivalent to 230 calories and 10 grams of fat.

Given that about 76 percent of American households are Christian-based, Santa has 11.4 million plates of cookies and glasses of milk to consume. This is equivalent to about 2.6 billion calories (remember, a pound of body fat contains 3,500 calories) -- and 114 million grams of fat.

His "jolly jugular" must receive a lot of exercise to defeat the chance of diabetes and heart disease.

At the North Pole, Santa is constantly trekking through snow and ice. Snow-shoeing is estimated to burn 45 percent more calories than normal walking, but throughout Santa's journey on Christmas Eve he has the pleasure of going up and down chimneys and staircases.

There are approximately 16 stairs per flight, 32 stairs per up and down trip. A person burns .11 calorie per stair climbed. If each of the 11.4 million homes he visited had one flight of stairs, Santa would burn 40,128,000 calories.

In addition, Santa does some strenuous work squeezing up and down the chimneys. A chimney is equivalent to a conquering a 20-foot rock climb, in which a person burns about 7 calories per minute with the up and down climb.

However, not everyone in America has a chimney. For conversation's sake, lets' assume that only half the homes he visits -- 5.7 million -- contain a chimney or a smokestack.

The upward climb is more challenging as Santa usually slides down the chimney, but Santa has a lot of practice, so let's say he only needs a minute to get back to the roof. That would work out to 39.9 million calories burned in chimneys. Tack on stairs and Santa's burned just over 80 million calories.

That leaves about 2.5 billion calories to burn off during a year of snowshoeing from just one night of sleighing. Thus the term "jolly old St. Nick!"

Christmas is a magical part of the year to celebrate life with loved ones amongst smiles and delicious foods. From me to you, I hope you have a joyous Christmas filled with laughter and cheer!

Elizabeth Kovar has been working in the fitness industry since 2006 with international experience from India and Australia. She has a master's degree in recreation and tourism and is the associate director of healthy living at the YMCA. She can be reached at ekovar@wwymca.org.

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