Why those with busy brains may be at risk for weight gain and how to stop it

Workplace Wellness

By pH health care professionals

Feel like you are always hungry? Science may finally have an answer. Turns out, a busy brain can lead to feelings of hunger, which can lead to weight gain if you don’t realize what’s going on. Think back to your college years. Those late night papers and study cram sessions likely helped you gain your requisite freshman 15.  

According to an article in The New York Times, thinking drains energy from the brain. The brain, trying to be “smart,” tells the body to eat to keep going. This means trouble for you, assuming you listen. Even though you might have only been sitting, with little calories burned, your brain tells you to eat.  

Scientists recently experimented with exercise as a way to ward off busy brain food cravings. They wanted to find out if they could help you eat less post heavy brain work with just 15 minutes of exercise.  

We’re going give you a bit of the science here, so bear with us.  

Gary Hunter, an exercise physiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, oversaw the study, which was published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Hunter noted that strenuous activity increases the amount of blood sugar and lactate — a byproduct of intense muscle contractions — circulating in the blood and increases blood flow to the head.

Because the brain uses sugar and lactate as energy, researchers wondered if the increased flow of fuel-rich blood during exercise could feed an exhausted brain and reduce the urge to overeat.  

Thirty-eight healthy college students were invited to UAB’s lab to participate. Their first visit was to determine their favorite pizza and get a feel for how hearty of an appetite they had. Later, the volunteers were invited back and spent 20 minutes pouring over questions from college and graduate exams.

Next, half the students were asked to sit quietly for 15 minutes, while the other half spent 15 minutes doing intervals on the treadmill: two minutes of hard running followed by about one minute of walking, repeated five times. The goal was to prompt the release of sugar and lactate into the bloodstream.   

After this, both groups were presented with their favorite pizza and instructed to “dig in.” The results? The exercisers consumed 25 fewer calories than they did during their first visit. The non-exercisers, however, consumed about 100 calories more. Additionally, when the calories expended on running were factored in, the exercising group was actually found to have consumed 200 calories fewer after their brain workout than the students that just sat and rested their brains.

The study has limitations, of course. “We only looked at lunch,” Hunter said. The researchers do not know if the runners consumed extra calories at dinner. They also cannot tell whether other types of exercise would have had the same effect as running, although Hunter said they suspect that if an activity causes someone to break into a sweat, it should also increase blood sugar and lactate, feeding the brain and weakening the hunger sensation.  

This indicates some good news for you and how you can prevent your busy brain from causing weight gain. Try to add some physical activity after serious brain work to prevent excessive indulgence in food. When you work out your brain, work out your body too so you don’t overeat.  

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. To learn more about the pH Health Care Team, click here.