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Science debunks the idea that you can burn lots of calories just by thinking hard

It was a good thought—no pun intended.


Cynthia McKelvey

Internet Culture

Posted on Apr 30, 2015   Updated on May 28, 2021, 11:03 pm CDT

SciShow host and Vlogbrother Hank Green has answered a question that many of us desk jockeys have probably pondered: “How many calories am I burning just thinking?”

It’s not a dumb question. The human brain burns 10 to 20 percent of your daily calories, according to Green.

While you’re just sitting there twiddling your thumbs thinking about diddly squat, your brain is burning calories at a rate of approximately one-fifth of a calorie per minute. If you’re really thinking hard—say, about the meaning of life, string theory, or where your socks keep running off to after you do your laundry—you may be burning about one and a half calories per minute.

Assuming you can only keep your think sessions focused for a couple of minutes, you could perhaps burn ten to 50 calories per day, Green explains.

Regardless, it usually takes a daily calorie deficit (calories consumed minus calories burned) of about 500 calories to see weight loss at a rate of one pound per week. So maybe you should try getting off your butt and going outside if you want to get in shape.

Pooh’s got the right idea, sort of.

Screengrab via SciShow/YouTube

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*First Published: Apr 30, 2015, 7:43 am CDT