1 Comment »Posted on Wednesday 25 November 2009 at 7:57 pm by Jacob Aron
In Getting It Wrong, Health & Medicine

Today the Daily Mail and the Telegraph both reported that spending time on Sodoku and other puzzles will help you lose weight. That’s right – you can simply think yourself thin, because giving your brain a workout apparantly burns 1.5 calories a minute, or 90 an hour.

Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Lose weight without even having to really do anything? Fantastic…until you realise that shifting just a single pound of fat requires burning 3500 calories more than you normally do. At five and a half weeks per pound, you’re not going to slipping in to some skinny new clothes any time soon.

Surely this advice comes from a well-respected brain expert though? It seems to have been announced by one Tim Forrester, who is billed as a “researcher” and “mental agility expert” by the newspapers. He also happens to run cannyminds.com, a “a brand new internet retailer specialising in Brain Training, Educational and Skills Improvement products.”

Well that’s handy – Forrester can sell you the very same puzzles that his “research” suggests will help you lose weight! And not a conflict of interest in sight.

It’s not clear how Forrester made this incredible discovery, but a bit of Googling shows up an article from Popular Science, published in 2006. The “1.5 calories a minute” figure seems to be ascribed to Harry Chugani of the ChildrenĀ“s Hospital of Michigan, but it’s not clear when or where he said it. The article also says our brain requires 0.1 calories a minute simply to survive, a phrase that Forrester quotes nearly verbatim.

Thinking hard is obviously going to require some extra calories, but I have no idea how many. The figures in these articles don’t seem to be backed up by any research, and they seem fairly unlikely – walking burns around 5 calories a minute, and requires far more activity than simply thinking.

Really, it doesn’t take too many calories to recognise that these articles are nothing more than poorly researched adverts for some guy’s website. That’s bad enough, but they could also have a potentially damaging effect on someone’s health if they decide to reach for the crossword instead of the cross trainer. There are no quick fixes to losing weight, and the “Sudoku diet”, like many, is complete nonsense.


  1. One Comment

  2. One of the first things we learnt in my biology degree was that thinking hard about maths doesn’t burn a single calorie more than daydreaming about singing frogs. Sleeping may use less, I dunno – but as far as I know nothing else you do can really make a difference to brain energy usage.
    That’s quite worrying if there really is no proper research behind these newspaper stories.

    By Shamini on Thursday 26 November, 2009 at 1:14 am

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