At the 1984 Chess World Championships, The game had to be abruptly called off because Anatoly Karpov, a Russian, looked too thin. In the five months leading up to this, Karpov had lost 10 kilograms in dozens of rounds, leading the tournament organisers to be deeply concerned about his health.
Karpov was not the only one who was so affected by such extreme health in the competition. Although no contestant has lost so much weight in a race since then, the top players can burn as many as 6,000 calories in a day and sit all day.
Is such a large calorie consumption related to the brain? Does this mean that thinking hard can help us lose weight easily? To understand this problem, we must first understand the brain’s energy consumption in normal conditions.
When the body is at rest (i.e. no activity other than basic breathing, digestion and body temperature), the brain consumes up to 20 to 25 percent of the body’s energy, mainly in the form of glucose. For the average man or woman, this energy is about 350 and 450 calories, respectively. In childhood, the brain is even more “greedy”. The average five- or six-year-old’s brain consumes up to 60% of the body’s energy. Although the brain weighs only 2% of its total body weight, the brain’s habit of “greedy” glucose makes it the most energy-consuming organ in the body.
In addition to humans, other animals also have this characteristic. The study found that ultra-small mammals such as small swastoes and macaques also distribute most of their body’s energy to the brain, just like humans.
Why is this happening? Although the brain is not heavy, it is larger than other parts of the body. In this way, the brain’s metabolism needs to consume more energy.
Most of the energy consumed by the brain is used for communication between neurons, which is transmitted by chemical signals between a cell structure called synapses. Activating synapses consumes a lot of energy, which involves transporting a lot of ions across membranes, which is one of the most energy-consuming processes in the brain.
In addition, the brain never stops to rest. Even in sleep, the brain needs energy to maintain the transmission of signals between cells, thus ensuring normal bodily functioning. Not only that, but there are cells that are specifically responsible for delivering nutrients to neurons, and these cells also require a certain amount of glucose to survive and work. It also explains why the brain consumes an extra percentage of energy in childhood, because by the time we are five or six years old, the brain is developing rapidly, requiring nearly three times as much energy as the adult brain.
Let the brain “exercise”?
Since the brain consumes so much energy, does that mean that the harder the brain works and the more energy it consumes, the more calories we can burn?
Theoretically, if the brain is doing difficult tasks involving cognitive abilities, the answer is yes. For different people, the difficulty of thinking tasks is also different. But in general, such tasks can be described as “tasks that the brain cannot easily solve with previously learned ways of thinking, or whose conditions are changing.” Activities such as learning a musical instrument and thinking about how to play chess may be included.
As you train and learn something new, the brain needs to adjust to increase the energy conversion in the brain region activated by the training. And as we become more skilled at completing a particular task, the brain will work easier and the energy it takes to accomplish it will be less and less.
Having said that, in the early stages of study for difficult tasks, in order to increase the body’s energy reserves, eating some sweets is no big deal?
If you just want to eat some sweets to boost your mood, it’s natural to do so, but if you think you can burn these calories by thinking alone, you’re wrong. Because although the brain consumes a lot of energy, the energy that is really used for thinking is relatively small, and most of it is consumed by activities carried out “in the dark”. We are often unaware of these activities, and many of them have nothing to do with conscious activities such as learning to sing or play the guitar.
In other words, learning new tasks or solving problems isn’t actually the most energy-intensive brain activity. In fact, the amount of energy consumed by “new activities” is actually very little compared to the total energy consumption of the brain.
The researchers further explain that the brain provides more blood, or energy, to the brain regions that are currently active, but the brain’s overall energy levels remain largely unchanged. So while the energy consumption in the local brain region increases significantly when we complete difficult cognitive tasks, the overall energy consumption of the brain does not change much.
“Chicken blood” body
But if that’s the case, how can Karpov’s weight drop in the game be explained? Scientists generally believe that this is related to reduced stress and eating, rather than being caused by racking their brains.
Top chess players can be under enormous pressure, leading to increased heart rate, faster breathing, sweating, and so on. Taken together, these effects burn more calories over time. In addition, top players sometimes sit for eight hours in a row, which disrupts their normal eating patterns. In addition, stage performers and musicians are often under pressure and the pace of their diet is often disrupted, and therefore weight loss occurs.
Scientists point out that keeping the body in a state of euphoria for a long time is a very energy-consuming thing. At this point, if you can’t maintain a normal amount of food, you may lose weight.
To sum up, thinking alone can’t keep us slim. But when inspiration is exhausted and you need to “fill it with blood”, it’s no bad to eat a small piece of chocolate.