How Many Calories Are Burned Doing Computer Programming?

Posted in Blog
Jan 24, 2016
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Doing computer programming takes a lot of brain work.  Do you ever wonder how many calories doing computer programming burn?

When I searched this in Google, I wasn’t able to find a clear cut answer.  The closest post I was able to find for this answer was on in the article How many calories does thinking burn? where it writes …

“One of the main reasons humans are the animal equivalent of gas-guzzling SUVs is our giant freak brains. Our grey matter burns a lot of energy, and that means we need a lot of food to fuel them.”

Walking burns more calories than thinking hard.  According to the article walking burns 4 calories per minute and kick-boxing burns 10 cal/min.   And the brain burns 0.1 cal/min at rest and 1.5 cal/min when thinking hard.   A person needs 1300 calories just to stay alive while at rest all day.

Considering that the brain is about 2% of body mass, it can use up to 25% of the body’s glucose and 20% of the body’s oxygen.

The brain is one of the more metabolically active organ, second only to the heart and kidneys.

You can see the chart in this article, where the brain burns 240 kcal per kg per day.  And the heart and kidneys each burns 440 kcal/kg/day.  Compare that to only 13 kcal/kg/day for skeletal muscle.

The only problem is that these numbers are when the person is at rest.  I hardly think that the brain is “at rest” when doing computer programming.  And when you are frustrated with a bug, your heart might not be at rest either.

However Scientific America writes that …

“Unlike physical exercise, mental workouts probably do not demand significantly more energy than usual.”

Their stats shows that brain at rest burns 10.8 calories every hour, or 0.18 calories each minute.  To look at it differently, it says …

“So a typical adult human brain runs on around 12 watts—a fifth of the power required by a standard 60 watt lightbulb.”

It also somewhat depends on how good of a computer you are.  Because article writes …

“Some studies have found that when people are not very good at a particular task, they exert more mental effort and use more glucose and that, likewise, the more skilled you are, the more efficient your brain is and the less glucose you need.”

And that makes sense. However, challenging mental exercise does not change blood glucose levels that much because…

” the body easily supplies what little extra glucose the brain needs for additional mental effort.”

Another component is stress.  Stress probably cause more calorie burn than just the active thinking per se.

Harvard has a table showing “Computer Work” burns 51 calories in an half hour.  Compared to 19 calories for half hour of sleeping.


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