Life & Style Weekend - - MAGAZINE / YOU -

Com­pared to loaf­ing on the sofa in front of the Kar­dashi­ans, try­ing to con­cen­trate on se­ri­ous men­tal tasks can feel phys­i­cally ex­haust­ing. You feel like all those turn­ing cogs must be hav­ing some im­pact on your en­ergy stores. But does your brain ac­tu­ally burn more calo­ries when it’s hard at work than it does dur­ing your weekly Net­flix binge? The short an­swer is: yes. Dur­ing a typ­i­cal day, we burn about 1335 kilo­joules just think­ing. That’s like burn­ing off a Mcdon­ald’s cheese­burger (1260kj) with 15 min­utes of steady jog­ging – at 12km/h. Ac­cord­ing to Dr Ewan Mcnay, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy and be­havioural neu­ro­science at the Uni­ver­sity of Al­bany, our brains al­most ex­clu­sively run on glu­cose – sugar. Un­like some other parts of our bod­ies, our brains need sugar, which is why when you cut carbs, you can feel men­tally groggy and bad-tem­pered. So it fig­ures that the harder they work, the more glu­cose they need. In fact, our brains use about 20 per cent of the body’s over­all en­ergy – de­spite them weigh­ing 2 per cent of our to­tal body weight. Dr Mcnay told that when you’re try­ing to mem­o­rise some­thing, for ex­am­ple, the parts of your brain re­spon­si­ble for mem­ory start to con­sume more en­ergy. “You will, in fact, burn more en­ergy dur­ing an in­tense cog­ni­tive task than you would veg­ing out watch­ing Oprah or what­ever,” he said. How­ever, the dif­fer­ence in calo­rie con­sump­tion be­tween tasks is pretty min­i­mal – at about 5 per cent. Most of the en­ergy our brains use is in keep­ing us alert and ready to take in ev­ery­day en­vi­ron­men­tal in­for­ma­tion, rather than in­di­vid­ual thoughts. Some­one who spends their work­ing day deep in thought (like say, a math­e­ma­ti­cian or sur­geon or actor learn­ing lines) might burn about 400kj more than some­one sit­ting in front of the TV for eight hours. Dr Mcnay says your best bet for in­creas­ing en­ergy burn is to en­gage your brain in mul­ti­ple senses, like eight hours of learn­ing a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment. And even then, as the glu­cose stores get used up, our minds start to wan­der – and if you tried to re­place any of that glu­cose, you’d be con­sum­ing more than your brain would be burn­ing.

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