Thursday, May 12, 2011

Thinking Burns Significant Calories - And Builds Innovative Abilities

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Thinking burns calories, and more than you'd expect. [From Douglas Castle's noted BRAINTENANCE Blog]

Yes, It's true. The human brain, conducting its routine functions (some of which are conscious and voluntary and some of which are unconscious and involuntary) tends to consume an average of 20% of your daily caloric intake, provided that you are not grossly overweight, or that you have not gorged yourself with funnel cakes and corn dogs during the course of the day. Using your brain, and hence your mind, is most definitely an exercise requiring some level of physical exertion.

This means that if you were to consume 2,400 Calories per average day, your brain (as if it were the same as any other muscle at work) would consume approximately 480 Calories. Several experts opine on this subject at ShareCare.Com, including such notables as Mehmet Oz, Kristy Lee Wilson, Todd Townes, Mike Clark and Wendy Batts, at The article is fascinating.

This, of course, begs the question: "Does the brain burn calories at a higher rate during certain mental activities?" Some possible theories and answers (more opinion and anecdotal than scientifically studied and verified) are summarized in a summary of study results which can be found at They seem a bit confusing at first, but I'll follow this summary with my own, logic-based conclusions:
[Does more activity (thinking more than normal) cause an increased need for calories?According to Arthur Jensen, yes (and no researcher seems to disagree with that, judging by the contents of the abstracts returned by a combined search for the keywords glucose, brain and energy on PubMed ( Magnetic resonance studies involving glucose doped with radioisotopic tracers show more glucose use when the brain is active and show more glucose use in areas of the brain involved inspecific activities. This has allowed researchers to see which areas of the brain are activated during given specific types of cognitive activity. For example, a test subject may be asked to perform a certain cognitive task or even take an IQ test while his brain is being scanned. The areas of his brain that are activated during performance of the task are then visible to the researchers.
Another study [27] investigated glucose metabolic rate (GMR) as a function of the "mental effort" expended on a task. The investigators did not correlate GMR with the same test for each individual, but compared groups of average and high-IQ subjects (mean IQ of 104 vs. 123) on easy tasks and on difficult tasks that were equated for the same degree of either "easiness" or "difficulty" within each group. Regardless of the task's objective demands, tasks for which 90% of the responses were correct (within the average group, or within the high-IQ group) were defined as "easy" for each group, and tasks for which only 75% of the responses were correct (within each group) were defined as "difficult." In other words, the level of a task's subjective difficulty was calibrated relative to each group's ability. For example, the average-IQ group could recall 6 digits backwards on 75% of the trials, whereas the high-IQ group could recall 7 digits on 75% of the trials. The measurements of GMR during these tasks revealed a significant interaction between IQ level and "mental effort" (i.e., level of difficulty relative to the individual's general ability level). Average- and high-IQ subjects hardly differed in GMR on the "easy" items but differed markedly on the "difficult" items. The high-IQ subjects brought more "fuel" to bear on the more difficult task. This increase in GMR by the high-IQ subjects suggests that more neural units are involved in their level of performance on a difficult task that is beyond the ability of the average-IQ subjects.
27. Larson et al., 1995.

Larson G. E., Haier R. J., LaCasse L. & Hazen K. (1995). Evaluation of a "mental effort" hypothesis for correlations between cortical metabolism and intelligence. Intelligence (, 21, 267-278.
(Arthur Jensen. The g Factor ( pp 158-159, 168, 616-616.)]

My logically-rationalized intuitive feeling about this "additional caloric burn" is that any of the following activities (I've called them "exercises" for purposes of conformity and simplicity) will cause increased glucose (Calories in suger) consumption in the brain. I shall not even hazard a guess at the extent of the "extra caloric burn."

EXERCISES: assimilating new information; making a ssociations and generalizations; making adaptations through neuroplasticity for injuries or deficiencies in other functional areas; puzzle-solving; map reading; abstract reasoning; tasks requiring multiple mental skill sets operating in full integration; neurolinguisitic reprogramming of previous beliefs and paradigms; memory and recall exercises; tasks requiring recall and multisensorial visualization; organizing and prioritizing tasks; creating processes and procedures to solve problems; processing feedback and reacting to the same in an unfamiliar environment; being forced to use less-popular or "dormant" mental faculties; explorations using the acknowledged senses; being forced to make emotionally or spiritually difficult choices with intense time limitations; and, in general, using the creative and imaginative processes.

I also suspect that if you do a great deal of deep thinking about a particular news item, idea or concept while exercising physically, this increases the rate of entire body caloric burn, and possible makes that portion dedicated to cerebration slightly higher than the traditional 20%.

Note: Maintain and train your brain, as well as your body - your physical and psychological health, as well as your level of cognitive growth, are all interrelated.


Douglas Castle
Chairman and CEO
TNNWC Group, LLC (summary:

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