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Learning for Health

Did you know that the biggest calorie burner in your body is the brain? Despite being only 2% of your total body mass, it can account for 20% of your total energy expenditure[1], showing how vital it is in overall function. This figure is even higher in 5-6 year olds, whose brains can burn up to 60% of total energy when they are in this intensive development stage.


Unlike other organs, the brain relies exclusively on glucose to function, which fuels the cognitive activity it undertakes. Studies have shown that intense mental tasks that demand focus and concentration require a surge in glucose in order to power the relevant neural pathways. This increases the brain’s metabolic rate, which translates into an increase in calories burned.


This means that it’s incredibly important to keep stimulating your mind. We’ve written before about how stimulating your brain by learning new things can improve your mental health – you can improve self-esteem and confidence, meet new people and reduce isolation, and generate a sense of purpose and achievement that can help reduce feelings of anxiety.


When we push ourselves to try something new (like learning a musical instrument or a second language, for example), our brains work extra hard to create new neural connections and expend extra energy to engage the memory function. Once we become more proficient at something, our brain activity is not as intense and the energy expenditure drops. If we want to sustain such activity, we have to keep learning new things!


It’s important to note that just thinking hard won’t result in weight loss. The extra calories burned are not sufficient to ‘think away’ an unhealthy lifestyle. However, the mental stimulation of learning new information or skills boosts the metabolic processes in the brain, which promotes synapse growth and formation that strengthens the structure of the brain. Research has shown that lack of stimulation can cause physical shrinkage of the brain into old age[2].


From what we’ve learned, one thing is key – mental stimulation keeps your brain physically healthy, so it’s just as important to exercise your mind as well as your body!



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