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Mental workout equivalent to physical stress


We tire from reading long passages. Though the blood doesn't pump methodically throughout our body during reading, do we burn calories through mental process?

How much energy is used to read compared to running a block?

beer good

Well-Known Member
I should hope my blood keeps pumping while I'm reading. :) But it's an interesting question; and the answer seems to be yes.

Walking burns about four calories a minute. Kickboxing can burn through a whopping ten calories a minute. Reading and pondering my blog post? That melts a respectable 1.5 calories a minute.

The frontal lobe of your brain is where your thinking takes place, so if you are pondering life's big questions, like what to have for lunch to replace the calories you are burning, that part of your brain will need more glucose.

Your brain is the most energy-hungry organ in the human body -- 2% of bodymass yet responsible for 20% of energy expenditure. I'm not aware of any studies comparing caloric use during difficult mental tasks vs. at rest, but it would be an interesting Pub Med search. However, as an aside, the link between physical exericise and brain function is well-described. Aerobic exercise (probably anaerobic too, like lifting weights, although this is less well-studied) causes increases in cerebral perfusion (bloodflow) and BDNF (kind of like growth hormone for your brain) and increases brain performance. Another reason to stay in shape!

Leonardo Noto
This is what I found

BLUF (That's Bottom-Line-Up-Front, for you nonmilitary types): The published research is not terribly robust. However, the below study, which was published in a somewhat esoteric journal but is from Yale, basically states that energy expenditure by the brain only increases slightly during strenuous mental activity. While this is somewhat counter-intuitive, it actually somewhat makes sense when you think about it because your brain is always working, even when you're spacing out. That's why solutions to difficult problems seem to pop out-of-the-blue when you're in the shower or whatever -- in reality your brain has been working on the problem subconsciously the whole time. Anyway, I thought that this was interesting. Good topic dude.

Leonardo Noto


From: Trends in Neuroscience.

Volume 27, Issue 8, 1 August 2004, Pages 489–495


The complex activities of the brain need not distract us from the certainty that it uses energy and performs work very efficiently. The human brain, which claims ∼2% of our body mass, is responsible for ∼20% of our body oxygen consumption. In vivo magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) follows the metabolic pathways of energy production (as glucose oxidation) and work (as monitored by the cycling of glutamate and GABA neurotransmitters). In the resting awake state, ∼80% of energy used by the brain supports events associated with neuronal firing and cycling of GABA and glutamate neurotransmitters. Small differences in neuronal activity between stimulation and control conditions can be measured and localized using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). MRS and fMRI experiments show that the majority of cerebral activity, which is often disregarded in imaging experiments, is ongoing even when the brain appears to be doing nothing.
Book Recommendation Along Same Lines

There's a great book called Change Your Brain, Change Your Life by Dr. Amen that is easily readable and has some great recommendations for improving brain performance. The book also describes a coming revolution in psychiatry involving functional brain imaging. I sent a patient who had a difficult diagnosis to Dr. Amen's clinic a little over a year ago for imaging with impressive results.

Leonardo Noto

leonardonoto.com | Physician, Paratrooper, Boxer/Grappler Turned Grumpy Old Writer!


Active Member
Do you have the link, Lovecraftian? I'd love to read it if you do. Hey, are you an Axis and Allies player? If you've never played, check it out 'cause you'll love it.

leonardonoto.com | Physician, Paratrooper, Boxer/Grappler Turned Grumpy Old Writer!

I follow so much chess stuff, I dunno where it is. I think it was on a YouTube interview link. I’ll hunt around for it. I couldn’t believe it when I heard it, but then I researched it and found that everyone says the same thing. Amazing!

beer good

Well-Known Member

Reading Shakespeare Enhances Your Ability to Think

Do you ever feel mentally sharper after reading high literature? Philip Davis, an English professor at the University of Liverpool, does–particularly after reading works by William Shakespeare. The way that the Bard structured lines–what Davis calls the “functional shift”–seems to prime the mind. Davis wanted to know if this was a scientifically verifiable phenomenon. So several years ago, he asked people to read lines while hooked up to electroencephalography (EEG) equipment:

But around each of those sentences of functional shift we also provided three counter-examples which were shown on screen to the experiment’s subjects in random order: all they had to do was press a button saying whether the sentence roughly made sense or not. Thus, below, A (“accompany”) is a sentence which is conventionally grammatical, makes simple sense, and acts as a control; B (“charcoal”) is grammatically odd, like a functional shift, but it makes no semantic sense in context; C (“incubate”) is grammatically correct but still semantically does not make sense; D (“companion”) is a Shakespearian functional shift from noun to verb, and is grammatically odd but does make sense:

A) I was not supposed to go there alone: you said you would accompany me.
B) I was not supposed to go there alone: you said you would charcoal me.
C) I was not supposed to go there alone: you said you would incubate me.
D) I was not supposed to go there alone: you said you would companion me.

What happened to our subjects’ brains when they read the critical words on screen in front of them?

According to the EEG, subjects had a greater comprehension of more complex lines once they had read a line featuring Shakespeare’s functional shift:

In other words, while the Shakespearian functional shift was semantically integrated with ease, it triggered a syntactic re-evaluation process likely to raise attention and give more weight to the sentence as a whole. Shakespeare is stretching us; he is opening up the possibility of further peaks, new potential pathways or developments. Our findings show how Shakespeare created dramatic effects by implicitly taking advantage of the relative independence–at the neural level–of semantics and syntax in sentence comprehension. It is as though he is a pianist using one hand to keep the background melody going, whilst simultaneously the other pushes towards ever more complex variations and syncopations.