Book Review – Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

Cover of "Spark: The Revolutionary New Sc...

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Everybody knows that exercise is good for you…. duh.  But we tend to think that it is good for you for the wrong reasons.  Well maybe not the “wrong” reasons but the average person’s knowledge of just what exercise does for your body barely scratches the surface of the fantastic and seemingly miraculous reality.  This reality is the focus of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey, MD.  This book has opened my mind to the novel idea that exercise may be even better for our brain than for our body.  Rather, the main idea is that the brain and the body aren’t separate and they benefit together from exercise.

Dr. Ratey is a clinical associate professor of psychiartry at Harvard Medical School.  He is acknowledged as one of the world’s foremost experts on Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD).  He is also the author of another very popular book titled: Driven to Distraction which is about these disorders.  He has studied the effects of exercise on the brain for decades and often prescribes it to patients in his clinical practice.

Dr. Ratey explores several different aspects of how the brain benefits from exercise such as learning, dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, attention deficit, addiction, hormonal changes and aging.  The information in the book goes above and beyond the common thought that its just endorphins that make you feel good when you exercise.  The magnitude of some of these effects were surprising.  A highschool in Naperville, IL uniquely implemented exercise into their curriculum and became the #1 rated school in the world on an international standardized science test.  Exercise at the right time of day can reduce the amount of medication needed by those suffering ADHD.  The book also includes stories of people who have overcome serious conditions like cancer using primarily exercise.

The book reads pretty easily for the amount of technical information it contains.  If you’re like most people I know when you come across a term like “Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor” in a book you want to put it down… and then throw up on it.  However, Dr. Ratey does a great job of weaving in interesting antecodtes to keep the story moving and the reader reading.

In our society we have a very monolithic view about the value of exercise.  We have become so obsessed with obesity that we only focus on its value for weight loss.  The truth is that you can lose weight without exercising and so some consider exercise to optional if you can find another way to keep your weight down.  BUT IT’S NOT!  Not if you want to be healthy at least.  We have forgotten a lot of what we have intuitively known about the effects of exercise on our minds and souls for centuries.

I have started using some of the recommendations from this book in working with my patients and people have been getting some great results.  It is so refreshing to find such a thorough and well written book to support this idea that exercise is good for more than a beach body.  I have a couple of copies of the book available for lending at the clinic if you are interested.  Otherwise follow the link to the book above and order yourself a copy from

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