Thursday, August 12, 2010

Spark - A book that'll change your lifestyle

I read a ton of books.  But most of them I pass through without any commentary.  This book is totally different.  Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, by John J. Ratey, MD, is worthy of its own blog post. 

Spark combines two of my favorite things on earth...neuropsych and exercise.  While parts of the book are perfectly easy reading, other parts are rather technical.  If you don't have a background in brain science, it would be helpful while reading to have some diagrams of the brain within reach, so you can conceptualize the complex chapters.  In fact, that would be my only suggestion for the author - that some anatomical brain diagrams might help the average reader.

So what do the brain and exercise have in common?  Lots!  It turns out that exercise plays a huge role in how our brain is functioning.  Not just the day to day stuff either.  One of my favorite parts is that it helps in the prevention of and/or slowing of brain degeneration (i.e. stuff like Alzheimers).  Following the chapters of the book, exercise will increase functioning or improve the following:
  • Learning (increase your ability)
  • Stress (help manage stress better)
  • Anxiety (decrease anxiety)
  • Depression (decrease depression - studies suggest that running is as good as Zoloft)
  • Attention Deficit (ADD or ADHD) - (decrease/manage symptoms)
  • Addiction (help overcome addiction)
  • Hormonal Changes (like menopause, PMS, etc.)
  • Aging (slow degeneration, build new brain growth)
One of the parts I really liked about Dr. Ratey's approach is that he used loads of scientific studies and statistics as proof of all the good things exercise does for the brain.  He started with a very intriguing case study done at a school in Chicago.  Kids there were running the mile before their hardest classes.  They saw huge improvements in school performance, and around 95% of the study body was in a healthy weight zone.  Impressive, huh?  Not only that, but their scores on standardized tests that compared them to schools around the world were first in science and sixth in math.  Keep in mind, this was compared to the world

Now if you want to take Ratey's approach to improving your brain function, any exercise is better than no exercise.  But in particular, he recommends aerobic exercise.  Specifically, running.  Whatever you do, you should do it at high intensity for short bursts to get the maximum brain effect.  So if you're on an elliptical, you should give yourself little bursts - say 30 seconds - to go all out.  The rest of the time can be a moderate pace.  In addition, he highly recommends exercise that involves very specialized body movements such as Tae Kwan Do and gymnastics.  Although he didn't recommend horseback riding, I would think that something like dressage would fit in with that too.

You're in for a treat with Dr. Ratey's book, and if you don't have a current exercise regimen, I would think that after reading this book you'd find the information leaves such a strong impression that you will want to make appropriate changes in your lifestyle to start.  Happy reading - and running! 


Jeremi said...

you always get me thinking!! i will check this book out -- thanks for sharing info about it.

wanted you to know i accidently erased your comment on our watermelon house -- the date was wrong and when i tried to fix that it deleted the comments. i have so much to learn about blog stuff!!

have a great day with your boys : )

Mere said...

you've inspired me to get on the treadmill today...:-)

Sonya @ Under the Desert Sky said...

That is all such great information.

I'd like to add ballroom dancing to the list. It's an awesome way to get a good cardio workout, PLUS you have to think about what you're doing.

For instance, if you're dancing the Fox Trot, you have to remember that the count is slow-slow-quick-quick and think about what your feet are doing now, and what your feet have to do next, how's your frame, what are your arms doing, are you and your partner on the same page, etc. (Of course if you're a pro, a lot of this is already automatic, but it takes lots of good-for-your-brain-and-body practice to get there.)

But, yeah . . . there's my long-winded way of saying I agree that exercise is good for your body AND brain.

And thanks for telling us about this book! It's definitely something I'll look at (after reading through my current "to read" book pile)!

jp@A Green Ridge said...

Great info, babygirl...and yep, I do those little burst thingys on the elliptical at the Y...:) I may have to get my hands on that book!

Lindsay said...

Thanks for this resource! As a brain-trainer, I will be adding this to my "to read" queue.

Chatty Crone said...

Thank you Lisa - I am going to order that from Amazon. Sounds GREAT! sandie