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Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain [Hardcover]

John J. Ratey , Eric Hagerman
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 10 2008
A groundbreaking and fascinating investigation into the transformative effects of exercise on the brain, from the bestselling author and renowned psychiatrist John J. Ratey, MD.

Did you know you can beat stress, lift your mood, fight memory loss, sharpen your intellect, and function better than ever simply by elevating your heart rate and breaking a sweat? The evidence is incontrovertible: Aerobic exercise physically remodels our brains for peak performance.

In SPARK, John J. Ratey, M.D., embarks upon a fascinating and entertaining journey through the mind-body connection, presenting startling research to prove that exercise is truly our best defense against everything from depression to ADD to addiction to aggression to menopause to Alzheimer's. Filled with amazing case studies (such as the revolutionary fitness program in Naperville, Illinois, which has put this school district of 19,000 kids first in the world of science test scores), SPARK is the first book to explore comprehensively the connection between exercise and the brain. It will change forever the way you think about your morning run---or, for that matter, simply the way you think

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"At last a book that explains to me why I feel so much better if I run in the morning! This very readable book describes the science behind the mind-body connection and adds to the evidence that exercise is the best way to stay healthy, alert, and happy!"—Dr. Susan M. Love, Dr. Susan Love's Menopause and Hormone Book and Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book

"Bravo! This is an extremely important book. What Cooper did decades ago for exercise and the heart, Ratey does in SPARK for exercise and the brain. Everyone--teachers, doctors, managers, policy-makers, individuals trying to lead the best kind of life--can benefit enormously from the utterly convincing and brilliantly documented thesis of this ground-breaking work. People know that exercise helps just about everything, except anorexia, but it will surprise most people just how dramatically it improves all areas of mental functioning. So, get moving! You're brain will thank you and repay you many times over."—Edward Hallowell, M.D., The Hallowell Centers

"This book is a real turning point that explains something I've been trying to figure out for years. Having experienced symptoms of both ADHD and mild depression, I have personally witnessed the powerful effects of exercise, and I've suspected that the health benefits go way beyond just fitness. Exercise is not simply necessary, as Dr. Ratey clearly shows, it's medicine."—Greg LeMond, Three-time winner of the Tour de France

"SPARK is just what we need-a thoughtful, interesting, scientific treatise on the powerful and positive impact of exercise on the brain. In mental health, exercise is a growth stock and Ratey is our best broker."—Ken Duckworth, M.D., Medical Director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness

About the Author

John Ratey, M.D. is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He is the author of numerous bestselling and groundbreaking books, including Driven to Distraction and A User's Guide to the Brain. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he has a private practice. Eric Hagerman is a former editor of Popular Science and Outside. His work has been featured in The Best American Sports Writing 2004, Men's Journal, and PLAY.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
I've read a lot about the brain in the last decade, and I thought this book was the most helpful summary I've seen of what to do differently. The thinking person is the person who aerobically exercises regularly.

Spark is an excellent summary of the brain research during the last decade or so that has added to our knowledge of how regular aerobic exercise stimulates better and more effective mental activity. Dr. Ratey considers the impact of such exercise on school-age children . . . and adults with stress, anxiety, depression, attention deficits, hormonal changes, and aging bodies. He also recommends a general exercise regime that seems to optimize what we know today from these studies.

The essence of the book can be found in the observation that optimal brain functioning requires plenty of blood, the right nutrients, a balance of body chemicals designed to help the brain operate, and an ability to grow new cells and connections in the brain. Each of these elements is helped by regular aerobic exercise. The results are often measurable within a few weeks.

So if you thought that aerobic exercise was simply about looking and feeling good, you're wrong. It's also about thinking well and being able to learn. There are longevity and other quality of life benefits as well . . . including reduced incidence of disease and less chance of dementia.

The book also explores that you don't have to do a tremendous amount of exercise to get most of the benefits.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
With Eric Hagerman, John Ratey has written a book in which he explains -- in layman's terms (to the extent that is possible) -- how physical exercise can "supercharge [provide a `spark' to] mental circuits to avoid or overcome stress, sharpen thinking, lift mood, increase memory...and much more." Obviously, these are all highly desirable results to achieve. Alas, many children as well as adults are out of (physical) shape, do not eat properly, and continue under severe stress to meet their obligations. The implications of what Ratey explains and recommends should be of special interest to young adults, their parents, school administrators, teachers, and coaches as well as to business executives who are responsible for the performance of those whom they supervise.

Here are some of the questions to which he responds:

What are some of the most common misconceptions about "the brain-body connection"?

What in fact is true?

How can aerobic exercise physically remodel our brains for peak performance?

Why is physical exercise the best defense against addiction, aggression, ADD, menopause, and even Alzheimer's?

What are the most significant revelations of a fitness program sponsored by the Naperville (IL) public school district in which more than 19,000 children participated?

Why should such a program (with necessary modifications) be made available to other school children?

In the absence of such a program, what can parents do to increase their children's physical exercise? What sacrifices (if any) must be made to accomplish that?

At a minimum, how frequently should we exercise...and for how long?

What are the benefits to be gained even from minimal exercise?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We're Animals After All July 17 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
John Ratey brings us convincing and useful research findings about the absolute necessity for exercise in our lives. We have the same limbic system as our cavemen ancestors, he explains. Their brains and ours were designed to save us from attacks by wild animals. We, of course, experience stress from our jobs and our relationships. Fighting or fleeing is not a viable option.

The book is well organized, dealing with our ability to learn and achieve academically: to how we become depressed instead of acting out the fight or flight we need to respond to: to the connection between addiction and exercise.

This is a remarkable collection of wisdom. For example, older women who exercise are half as likely to develop dementia as their sedentary sisters. Chronic stress results in a whole bundle of illnesses. Staying well and keeping our brains sharp is a do-it-yourself project.

I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to live a healthier, more sane life.
Confessions of a Trauma Therapist: A Memoir of Healing and Transformation
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye Opening Nov. 9 2010
I bought this book for my dad for Christmas a couple years ago, to encourage his New Year's resolutions regarding exercising more. But after the unwrapping I picked it up myself and was hooked.

I have always felt intuitively that the main thesis of this book is true, and lived by it, but I never had any real evidence for that belief and never thought of looking into it myself. It just seemed self-evident that exercise was a necessary and profitable thing to be doing, even as friends during exam-time would ask how I could possibly waste an hour at the gym with finals the next morning.

Well, the evidence is in (and has been for some time, it seems) and Ratey does a very admirable job of collecting much of it in one place, and explaining it all in way simple enough for absolutely anyone to understand. Yes, he oversimplifies greatly (brain-derived neurotrophic factor becomes 'Miracle-Gro for your brain'), but then that's the idea, to get this message out and increase people's awareness of just how beneficial exercise is for the brain/mind.

This message is examined from almost every conceivable angle, again, all in a very easily-comprehensible way. As I studied neuroscience in undergrad, I was astounded that none of this revolutionary information was being taught. Whether you look at grades, motivation, depression scores, etc. on the behavioral level, or go down to the neural and genetic level in mice, looking at dendrites, BDNF, and so on, every measure suggests that exercise (cardiovascular mostly, but some evidence for strength training as well) has positive effects on mood, memory, motivation, intelligence (IQ) and so on and so forth. The list goes on.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Same old, same old. You could read it's tired and hacknied message in one page
Published 27 days ago by ajeffrey
4.0 out of 5 stars I used it as a course textbook for university. ...
I used it as a course textbook for university. We compare the lay perspective (As in here) to actual, empirical research and this book actually holds its own well compared to... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Hiten Dave
5.0 out of 5 stars Helpful and interesting
wow this book really makes you think about excersie differently. This is not an ordinary fittness book but rather helps the reader to understand how excersize and mental health a... Read more
Published 1 month ago by helga
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
Great read very inspiring
Published 2 months ago by Jiwan
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent and very inspiring read!
Published 3 months ago by Karen Banting
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
Great book, I got it really fast and completely amazed by the context of the book. Overall this is a great product.
Published 14 months ago by Damian
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring and Informative
Inspiring me to get out an do more cardio. Easy to understand, but enough brain science to make it educational. I like the way John Ratey writes.
Published 15 months ago by Heidi Thompson
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for anyone who cares about their Cognitive vitality
I tell people that after reading this, I immediately put on my runners and took a long walk. Extols the many benefits of exercise in treating and preventing depression, anxiety,... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Ann Rauhala
5.0 out of 5 stars Very informative in the use of Exercise for Mental Health
The author makes a very compeling case explaining how the action of the body influence the brain and vicecersa. A pleasure to read.
Published 16 months ago by Juan Carlos Lodola
4.0 out of 5 stars Spark is sparky
I liked the author's enthusiastic writing style, he brings you into the fold of the many intricate details of why physical health and exercise impact your brain functions. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Greg Caws
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