Does Thinking Burn Calories? Here’s What the Science Says
Y ou spent Sunday on the couch, skimming your social feeds and watching HGTV. Monday at work was a different story; your job involves creative problem solving and other difficult mental activities. Does the extra brainpower you use at work burn more energy than your Sunday spent watching Fixer Upper reruns?
“The basic answer is yes,” says Ewan McNay, an associate professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Albany.
The brain—unlike any other part of the body—runs exclusively on the sugar glucose, and strenuous cognitive activities require more glucose than simple ones, says McNay, who has studied how the brain uses energy to perform work. During a difficult memorization task, for example, the parts of your brain involved in memory formation will start consuming more energy, but other brain areas will show no such increase.
“You will in fact burn more energy during an intense cognitive task than you would vegging out watching Oprah or whatever,” he says. But in the context of the average person’s overall energy expenditure, the difference in calorie burn from one mental task to another is a tiny amount, he adds.
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To put cranial calorie burn in perspective, it helps to understand how your body burns energy. Unless you’re a professional athlete, most of the energy your body uses doesn’t have much to do with movement or exercise. A good-sized chunk—roughly 8% to 15%—goes toward digesting the stuff you swallow, while a much larger portion is required to power your organs and keep you alive and functioning. And no part of you demands more energy than your brain.
“As an energy-consumer, the brain is the most expensive organ we carry around with us,” says Dr. Marcus Raichle, a distinguished professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. While the brain represents just 2% of a person’s total body weight, it accounts for 20% of the body’s energy use, Raichle’s research has found.
That means during a typical day, a person uses about 320 calories just to think.
Different mental states and tasks can subtly affect the way the brain consumes energy. “If we were to put you in a scanner and we looked at what’s going on [in your brain] while in front of the TV or doing a crossword, your brain’s activity would change if we gave you a demanding task, and it would use more energy,” he says.
But if you’re hoping to think yourself slim, Raichle says you’re out of luck. While the brain burns a lot of energy, any changes in brain activity and energy use during a tough mental task are minute: “maybe a 5% change against the backdrop of all brain activity,” he says.
Even if you were to keep your brain immersed in difficult mental pursuits all day long, this 5% change wouldn’t add up to much. “Calorie-wise it would be very modest,” Raichle says, adding that you would expend more energy pacing back and forth.
The bulk of your brain’s energy consumption is put toward sustaining your alertness, monitoring your environment for important information, and managing other “intrinsic” activities. In terms of its energy demands, “an individual thought is cheap, but the machinery that makes it cheap is very expensive,” he adds.
McNay agrees that our brains don’t expend a whole lot more energy during tough tasks than during simple ones. A person doing cognitively challenging work for eight hours would burn about 100 more calories than a person watching TV or daydreaming for the same amount of time, he estimates. “If you were doing something really demanding that uses multiple senses—something like learning to play an instrument—that might get as high as 200 [calories],” he says. “But we’re talking eight hours of learning a new instrument.”
Even in this hypothetical instrument-learning session, the brain’s ability to stay on task would taper off as its stores of glucose dwindle. “You’d run into this depletion effect where you can’t sustain the same level of cognitive performance,” he says. Drinking Gatorade or gobbling a few jelly beans could replenish your glucose stores and help restore your brain to full power. But the calories in those foods would easily outnumber any you’d burn.
However, there could still be a calorie-burning upshot for people who spend their days performing mentally challenging work. Even if you’re only burning a small number of extra calories each day, that could, theoretically, add up to something meaningful over a period of 50 or 60 years, McNay says—so thinking things through is worth it.
Does Studying Burn Enough Calories To Lose Weight?
Many believe that studying can lead to burning excess calories that would ultimately contribute to weight loss. This idea may seem plausible because often after studying, you get hungry, feel the need to rest, and want some kind of compensation. It also seems likely that intense intellectual exertion require more energy than natural, routine mental processes. But does studying burn enough calories to lose weight?
It turns out that mentally draining activities do not significantly require more energy, and won’t help much in losing weight.
No Calorie Burns?
I’m not saying studying does not burn any calories. Of course, studying will use up some energy, but so does breathing and other simple, everyday brain functions. It’s common sense that you don’t lose too much extra weight while breathing. Compared to the total daily intake and the total metabolic rate of 2,200 calories per day, the calorie loss from mental activities is trivial.
Also, short periods of extra mental efforts, such as studying, don’t really require more energy than daily brain activities. The brain continuously uses energy to function as an organ in the human body. Since the brain’s baseline intake is already substantial, other additional brainpower and glucose increase does not affect the energy consumption by much.
According to David A. Levitsky, professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell University, daily mental activities take up only about 20 percent of the resting metabolic rate (RMR) of 1,300 calories a day. That’s 300 calories per day- about 10 calories per hour and 0.20 calories each minute. Studying may increase the glucose uptake in the brain by less than 20 calories of the 300 calories, but since it’s impossible to stay at maximum concentration for long durations, it is only about 10 more calories a day in reality.
What About The Exhaustion And Hunger?
You feel tired and hungry after studying because of the temporary mental exhaustion and stress. Hours of concentrating will leave you mentally and physically weary, making you feel drained. Eating after studying will make you feel satisfied and happy, but will actually make you gain weight since you haven’t actually burned more calories.
In order to avoid getting a mental burnout and binge eating, take breaks in between studying sessions. If you know you’re not going to focus, how about taking a short nap? Watch some Youtube videos or stretch out your body. If you think you need something filling to eat, start chewing a gum or drink water. Most importantly, do not stress over your work! Your GPA may be important, but ultimately, nothing is more important than your health. Enjoy your college life and study consistently, rather than pulling an all-nighter.
It’s such a shame now that I know I shouldn’t have rewarded myself with Edy’s ice cream pints and mini Kitkats while preparing for midterms. At least now if someone asks me “does studying burn enough calories to lose weight?” I can confidently say no. Also, to my other fellow college students, beware of the snack corner while you study!
How many calories do you burn doing homework?
That means during a typical day, a person uses about 320 calories just to think. Different mental states and tasks can subtly affect the way the brain consumes energy.
How many calories do you lose when you sleep for 8 hours?
A person who weighs 125 pounds burns approximately 38 calories per hour sleeping. That doesn’t necessarily sound like a lot. But multiply that by the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep experts say you should get each night, and that’s a total potential of 266 to 342 calories for snoozing.
How many calories do you burn Cleaning for 2 hours?
Total Calories Burned As an estimate, a 150-pound person will burn 200 calories per hour while doing housework.
How much calories do you lose when you run for 10 minutes?
According to a chart from the American Council on Exercise, a 120-pound person burns about 11.4 calories per minute while running. So if that person runs a 10-minute mile, they’ll burn 114 calories. If that person weighed 180 pounds, the calorie burn goes up to 17 calories per minute.
What is the fastest way to burn calories?
Running is the winner for most calories burned per hour. Stationary bicycling, jogging, and swimming are excellent options as well. HIIT exercises are also great for burning calories. After a HIIT workout, your body will continue to burn calories for up to 24 hours.
How many calories do you burn running 5k in 30 mins?
4. Burn Those Calories. One 30 minute run is guaranteed to burn between 200-500 calories. That’s a fantastic step forwards to your weight loss goal.
Can running give you abs?
Running is an activity that engages your core. The more that you engage your core muscles, the stronger they will get. However, that doesn’t mean you are building abs. Some people mistakenly think you should run to build a better core.
Is it OK to run 5k every day?
Running a 5K every day can be a great way to improve your cardiovascular health, strengthen and maintain your muscles and keep yourself sane while you’re stuck at home, as long as you’re not brand-new to running. Plus, when paired with a healthy diet, it may even help you lose weight.
Is a 5k in 30 minutes good?
Running a 5K is a fairly achievable feat that’s ideal for people who are just getting into running or who simply want to run a more manageable distance. Many runners complete a 5K in 30 to 40 minutes, and many runners are satisfied with their time if it’s around this benchmark.
What is a respectable 5k time?
Generally, many runners consider a good finishing time for a 5k to be anything under 25 minutes, which means keeping an 8-minute-mile pace. If this is your first 5k, an 8-minute-mile pace might be fairly aggressive, depending on how long you have trained, how old you are, and so forth.
Will I lose weight running?
Running is an excellent form of exercise for weight loss. It burns a lot of calories, may help you continue to burn calories long after a workout, may help suppress appetite and targets harmful belly fat. What’s more, running has many other benefits for your health and is simple to begin.
Should I run everyday?
Should I run every day? Running every day may have some health benefits. But the same research also shows that these benefits top off at 4.5 hours a week, meaning there’s no need to run for hours each day. Running is a high-impact exercise and overtraining can lead to injuries such as stress fractures and shin splints.
Can Running reduce belly fat?
Running or walking: As you exercise, calories are burned and your body fat percentage decreases. So, exercising not only helps you to reduce belly fat, it also sheds fat from other areas. Running and walking are two of the best fat-burning exercises. Plus, the only equipment you need is a good pair of shoes.
Does running make your butt bigger?
The answer to this question is yes, but not always. People who are hell-bent on losing some junk from their trunk often try running, however, without a proper carefully planned routine, they are more likely to decrease their muscle mass instead of fat. …
Is it OK to run 3 days in a row?
In addition, you should never do harder efforts two days in a row unless you are an experienced runner working from a smart plan. So, if you are running five days a week, three should be recovery runs. If you are running six days a week, three or four should be recovery runs.
How far should I run in 30 minutes?
Even with walking breaks, you can cover 2 miles in 30 minutes, and you might soon be running 3 miles in that time. It’s important to run these efforts at an easy, comfortable pace.
Is it better to run everyday or every other day?
Experts often advise those just starting out to run no more than three or four days per week. Aim for 20 to 30 minutes of activity on running days, two days of non-running workouts, and at least one rest day per week. You may want to start out running every other day.