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Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain
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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

Customer Reviews:

  • An Energizing Read ... now for my running shoes
    I knew next to nothing about the brain's physiology and less about the physiology's relationship to the rest of the body. While I remain no expert in the realm of neuroscience, I found `Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain' a captivating read. For the novice - meaning me - I learned something about the value of exercise in maintaining, on occasion improving, the health of the brain. Ratey approaches, and grows, his analysis by topic (learning, stress, anxiety, ... , aging). It all made sense. As a migraine sufferer I'd liked to have seen something on migraines and exercise. I guess it's up to me to put on my running shoes and see what happens!...more info
  • Excellent, motivating book...
    Teaches you about brain chemistry and biology, and how it can be positively affected by exercise. You will never think of exercise as something to do merely for physical appearance or even physical health. It can help you focus, be more productive, and beat depression or depression-like symptoms. The author has the science to back up the claims and organizes the book in such a way that it is easy to follow and learn. I'm hoping that it will lead me -- as an intellectual person -- to exercise more upon an intellectual understanding as to the wide-range positive effects it has. I hope to be a poster child for it, and will let you know more about how it works, beyond the intellectual level......more info
  • Spark - It's time to change ths world!
    Dr. Ratey always has the ability to bring science and practical wisdom together into big ah-ha moments. (I loved his book "Shadow Syndromes.") Funny, and sad, how we have gotten so far from what our bodies were designed to do - move, exercise, dance, swim, skate, walk, run, skip, play, learn and practice a skill or sport.

    Exercise is that crucial missing piece that we all think is something we have no time for in our schedule, today, as if it were a luxury. But Ratey explains exactly why we have to discover that time. Exercise, or the lack of it, affects success in school, at work and in life, and contributes to an overall sense of satisfaction and pleasure. It's not just about the body. It's about the brain.

    We need exercise to activate those dopamine neurons in the reward center of the brain. (P.142) The fact that we have a reward area in the brain, is absolutely fascinating to me. Working with ADHD adults, I have had the opportunity to observe the proof of exactly what this book explores. Those adults who exercise, who find new ways to MOVE and do so in a ways that appeal to them - find more contentment, satisfaction and success.

    "Spark" certainly creates a mandate for what is lacking in our educational system and in our country's future. If we don't truly get the role that exercise plays, if we can't see the simple science of it all, where are we headed? You know, there is a lot of hope in this book, if only we could share it with all those who design programs for children.

    So, get up and move!

    Linda Anderson, MA, Master Coach
    Specializing in ADHD Adults

    ...more info
  • Buy This Before It Is Out of Print!
    Run, don't walk, to get this book. This should be required reading for every Doctor and School Teacher. This book will help me preserve many years of cognitive ability that I was surely destined to lose before I read it and started following Dr. Ratey's recommendations.

    I found this book easy to read, extremely informative and highly motivating. The few places where I seemed to get bogged down in the science were quickly replaced by huge chunks of information that really inspired me to do the simplest of things that will protect and improve my mental stability. The information in this book really is a "no brainer!"

    Buy it. Read it. Do it and you will be far ahead of almost anyone else in strengthening and preserving your mental health for the rest of your life!

    To die is inevitable. However, I think this, along with legitimate brain training like "The Brain Fitness Program Software" that I just bought ($395 from PositScience) is a huge part of the key to avoiding dementia and Alzheimer's so that my brain isn't useless before my body wears out.
    ...more info
  • Scientific Proof to back up our anecdotal observations
    I was looking for information to help children with Learning Disabilities. This book provides scientific and medical evidence of the benefits of exercise to reduce stress and improve learning abilities as well as to improve self-confidence and reduce anxiety. All information is easy to read and applicable to average people. Every school teacher, phys-ed teacher, parent and adult should read this book. John J. Ratey, MD is THE EXPERT in this field. Now, I will head over to the treadmill to fire up my brain......more info
  • Overcomplicated & Boring
    I bought this book since the title sounded interesting. However, after reading the first three chapters I found it to bequite technical, full of jargons and missing the point. There are some interesting snippets but on the overall its quite disappointing....more info
  • Fantastic Info
    Too bad more PE teachers and School administrators, AND students don't read this book! Great info that is easy to implement and benefit from the results!...more info
  • How reading this book changed my behavior
    After reading SPARK, I bought a heart monitor and started a daily vigorous exercise program. Haven't missed a day yet, three weeks later. We sent copies to all of the teachers in the family, to encourage them to talk up the school in chapter 1 and how much the students there have progressed academically since the school switched to tailored exercise programs for students. I wanted to read this book aloud to everyone on my plane! ...more info
  • Eye Opening
    Our doctors always say to get more exercise. We always yawn and say of course; we've heard it all before. And then we are mediocre in our follow up. After reading Spark my entire viewpoint has changed. Exercise is a master key to brain functioning. Cholesterol and other system problems caused by lack of exercise are a bit ambiguous since we often can't directly feel them until we manifest some disease. Brain functioning is something else entirely. We can feel an almost immediate change after aerobic exercise. After reading Spark I definitely have become a six day a week exerciser. I need my brain functioning as well as possible, and the data in this book has made a believer out out of me....more info
  • The Brain on Exercise
    This book explains in clear terms the role exercise plays in our mental processes. Moving our muscles produces proteins that play roles in our highest thought processes. Ratey says, "thinking is the internalization of movement." He illustrates this with the story of the sea squirt that hatches with a rudimentary spinal cord and 300 brain cells. It has only hours to find a spot of coral on which to put down roots or die. When it does put down roots, it eats its brain. According to Ratey only a moving animal needs a brain.

    He begins with the value exercise has for the learning process in high school students: improved academic performance, alertness, attention and motivation.

    He cites studies that say we can alter our mental states by physically moving. He said depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. He then presents a chapter where depression is relieved in case studies by exercise.

    Among the areas Ratey covers are: stress, depression, ADD, and aging. This book is a great motivator for exercise.

    However, Ratey's work was preceded by Glenn Doman's. Doman advocated exercise for brain injured children in the 1950s when the only 'treatment' was to institutionalize them. He later started a `super babies' program. Both the educational and medical establishments attacked and marginalized Doman's work.
    ...more info
  • disappointing
    The first chapter was exciting but it was downhill from there. I agree with the reviewer who said it would make a good magazine article. Exercise is good for the brain - said over and over - became less and less interesting as the book went on....more info
  • A Must Read!!! Run (or walk) and Get This Book!
    Dr. John Ratey has created an invaluable and timely work that helps shed light on what exercise can do to enhance the quality and longevity of our lives. Spark is a tremendous resource for clinicians and non clinicians alike. Whether you are an olympic athlete or life long couch potato this book is definitely for you!

    Dr. Ratey provides us with the latest clinical information and scientific research being done worldwide to better understand the impact of exercise on our bodies and minds. He shares personal experiences and patient accounts which make this book not just informative but touching, funny and relatable as well.

    As a youngster who spent most of the time in the nurses office during gym class, I want to thank Dr. Ratey for writing this book and helping me learn about and appreciate my body and what I can do on a daily basis to try and reach my full potential.

    Thanks so much, its a must read!!!
    Ali L.
    Boston, MA...more info
  • Blah, blah, blah, blah
    Let me save you quite a bit of time and rewrite this entire book in one sentence for you. "Studies show that exercise will cure what ails you!" Read that sentence over and over and over and over again for 300 pages, and you will have gotten everything you will get out of this book.

    In any case, the author seriously oversells his case. He sounds like a used car salesman desperate to make a sale at the end of a slow month. He'd be a lot more likely to close the deal if he toned down the superlatives about how great the stereo is and the new paint job and told me how to make the car actually run. I happen to know first-hand that exercise can indeed improve your life, but there's no reason it should take anyone 300 pages to make that point.

    ...more info
  • Spark hits the mark!
    SPARK is a must read book! Dr. Ratey does an amazing job of relating case study after case study in such an interesting and easy manner. This is so important for people of all ages to read to understand the implications exercise has on everything from ADHD to Alzheimer's Disease! As a personal trainer and advocate for movement in the classroom, I feel this book hits it right on the mark, without being pushy. ...more info
  • The right mix of science and practical information
    This is a brief for exercise as an element of brain fitness. The author is a Harvard Medical School Professor. There is a lot of science here --any more and I would have been lost. The idea is simply this --we are designed to be moving animals. Our brains are controlled by chemicals which must be kept in balance and cells which must be replensished and grow. Vigorous, regular exercise, like a pill we take every morning but wihtout the side effects, helps manage all of this complexity. We don't know exactly how this works but it works and is a prescription to ward off stress, depression, anxiety, dementia and other like afflictions which all have biochemical roots. In the same way that exercise benefits the heart, Dr. Raney persuasively argues it benefits the organ of the brain. My advice--read the book, go out and get a heart monitor and make vigorous exercise a standard part of your day and life. ...more info
  • The interdependence of mental, emotional, and physical health

    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?

    All of Ratey's observations and recommendations are research-driven, supplemented by his own personal experiences. He seems to be on a mission (one that is commendable) to do everything he possibly can to broaden and deepen public awareness of the consequences of obesity, lethargy, and indolence but also, more to the point, to provide reassurance that even a modest increase in physical exercise can have substantial benefits, not only in terms of improved health but also increased achievement and consequent pride in the classroom as well as in the workplace...indeed in every realm of human life.

    Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out Ratey's A User's Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention, and the Four Theaters of the Brain and John Medina's Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School (Book & DVD). It is worth noting that everything that Ratey recommends is consistent with the various "rules" that Medina identifies and discusses, notably #1 ("Exercise boosts brain power"), #7 ("Sleep well, think well"), #8 ("Stressed brains don't learn the same way"), #9 ("Stimulate more of the senses"), and #12 ("We are all natural explorers"). How simple it seems: Eat right and get lots of exercise and sufficient rest. If you do, you will reduce stress and nourish your curiosity. To many of us, the obvious is often invisible until we are enlightened by others such as John Ratey and John Medina....more info
  • very inspirational
    Really great information. Convinced the biggest exercise procrastinator on earth to buy a heart monitor and hit the track!...more info
  • Grab your gym bag
    Finally, someone attempts to describe what's going on in the brain that creates mental/emotional difficulties, and then describes how movement can help remedy these problems. I come from a family of depressive, overanxious, Alzheimer's-prone people with ischemic disease. The first message I picked up is, "It's not your fault. It's the way your brain works (or doesn't work) that causes the depression and anxiety." The second message I got was that it's never too late to start exercising to alleviate or delay these issues. I read the book in a day, started walking the next morning and have followed through every morning since. I have to say, I feel sharper, my blood pressure has gone down and I've even dropped a little weight. ...more info
  • Exercise requires repetition but not the book.
    The content is interest and important, but he simply repeats himself too much. This is a 250 page book with 75 pages of substance....more info
  • The brain-exercise connection finally explained !!
    Having ready 2 previous books by John : The users guide to brain and Driven
    by distraction i was looking forward to reading SPARK. I was especially
    interested in learning how John was going to tie exercise with the brain
    functioning since i am a strong supporter of exercise and have experienced
    its benefits. I knew before reading SPARK that exercise in some way does
    make you feel better. But SPARK puts it in perspective from a scientific
    point of view. The chapters on Stress and depression particularly caught my
    attention since most of us struggle with these 2 issues at some point in
    life and again most of us turn to popping a pill to deal with it. If its as
    simple as getting on a treadmill or a bike and working out for 30-45
    minutes without any side effects, then it seems only logical to do it. The
    BDNF (Miracle-gro as John calls it) was a very interesting read for me. I
    did had to go back and re-read certain topics as was it too much medical
    terms to comprehend in one read. But once i got it, it became permanent and
    that's the beauty of this book.
    Its simple yet powerful in its message. The simplicity comes from the fact
    that "you goto workout ". The power comes from the facts / data that proves
    "why you goto workout". Once the reader ties the two together, the message
    is very clear and hopefully will remain for a lifetime with the reader.
    Today if you look around there is a lot of awareness among people about the
    ill-effects of obesity. There are TV programs, advertisements, books about
    why exercising is good for you and how it will help you be more fit. But
    this is the only books that tells you that exercise will also make your
    brain fit along with your body. The brain-body connection is important and
    one cannot be ignored over the other.
    ...more info
  • This book could change your life
    John Ratey is well known for his groundbreaking work on Attention Deficit Disorder. He coauthored the book, "Driven to Distraction" with Ed Hallowell. His newest book is "Spark- The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain." I found Spark a fascinating read. Ratey cites dozens of studies that span decades and continents. All point to the same conclusion: exercise, and aerobic exercise in particular, boosts the release of important neurotransmitters and enhances cognitive function. For people with ADD or ADHD, this boost can be life changing. Ratey is not prescribing exercise as the "cure" for attention issues, but he does offer specific examples of people who have used exercise to combat the negative effects of stress and attention problems. Many were able to reduce or eliminate ADD medications, though he clearly states that for some people, a combination treatment of both medication and structured exercise may be best.

    Ratey talks at length about the success of a special gym program instituted in Naperville, Illinois. The emphasis is on personal fitness. Students in this area have very strong tests scores and a very low rate of childhood obesity. In other places around the country that have implemented a similar program, standardized scores have risen dramatically. These case studies are fascinating.

    "Spark" has inspired me to increase my own exercise routine, and also to institute morning recess at home each day. My homeschooled kids are absolutely loving it and we're finding the morning transitions go much more smoothly when we all look forward to getting outside and moving our bodies! We've been running laps on the driveway (five times back and forth to the mailbox is about a mile), doing calisthenics, playing four square, jump rope, and kickball. My three year old has her own method of jumping jacks that is just hilarious to watch. My daughter who has the hyperactive sort of attention deficit enjoys sprinting before school, and appears to have less trouble focusing after she has been active. I think my next investment will be a basketball hoop!

    Everyone knows that exercise is good for the body, but it is high time that we recognize how good it is for the mind. For a child who has attention issues, a solid workout each morning may make a real difference. I'd be skeptical of a drug that claimed to, "supercharge your mental circuits to beat stress, sharpen your thinking, lift your mood, boost your memory, and much more" , but these are very real affects that regular exercise can produce. Not all exercise is equally effective in fighting symptoms of ADD. Read this book to find out how to implement a regimen that will work for you or your children.
    ...more info
  • fantastic book!
    truly thought-provoking and very interesting. If you sometimes get lazy about exercising, this book will make you realize it's as important for your brain as for your body. great stuff!...more info
  • as if....
    we need yet another reason to exercise... As the Director of Lifelong Fitness Alliance, an organization that has been advocating physical activity for 29 years, I'm well aware of the benefits of exercise. Yet this inspirational book, written in a lively style and loaded with entertaining and provocative case studies, scientific evidence and practical information, not only provides another great reason to incorporate physical activity into your life. It also provides an individualized formula to make your exercise routine have an impact on your brain, improving function and alleviating the negative effects of depression, anxiety, stress and hormonal fluctuation among others. I will be purchasing this book for both my college-aged children, and I would recommend it to anyone who has a reason to sharpen their mental capacity. ...more info
  • Spark
    Great Book - Tells the average Joe six pack how to improve his life, mind and Body through exercise . Use your bodies Natural drugs to feel better- and there are Legal
    ...more info
  • AAAAAA++++
    Outstanding service. Got the item I ordered in a short amount of time, and it is exactly as described. Thanks!!!...more info
  • Inspirational!
    I had the good fortune to hear Dr. John Ratey lecture on his new book Spark. I got a copy right away. I am a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner and know the benefits of exercize; now we have some solid proof. Us health providers have to inspire people to move. As far as I'm concerned activity is the best way to mental health. Anyway John Ratey has inspired me and I thank him for this valid research and commitment to exercize as a way to good health. Any t-shirts available yet?...I dig that running stick figure.


    Claudine Grange, APRN
    Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
    Arundel, Maine
    ...more info
  • Spark
    Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

    Excellent book. Useful information....more info
  • And then what?
    Executive Summary -- Exercise will help improve mental function. Ratey uses nine chapters to describe the physical and chemical processes that happen in the brain for various mental conditions. He explaines that exercise will stimulate the growth of stem cells that can, in turn, become brain cells. In one of these chapters, he mentions that exercise involving skills such as tennis will work better than just physical activity (running). Also mentioned once is that ten minutes of a complex physical activity before a learning session (I take this to be something like yoga, or Tai Chi.) will enhance the learning process.
    In chapter 10, the money chapter on physical activity, he suggestes getting into shape perhaps by walking first, and then jogging, and possibly then running as someone gets stronger, and to continue to challenge yourself physically. He says that reistance training is an unknown in terms of activaiting the brain to learn as no research has been done in this area. He does not appear to mention anything about using the combination of exercise and skills activity.
    I'll get around to increasing my physical activity, but I'm still not sure what to do.

    P.S. Unless you're interested in neurochemistry and neurophysilogy, this is the book.
    ...more info
  • Exercise, the most important thing your life is missing
    Spark explains the burgeoning research into how exercise is one of the key ingredients missing in the modern Western lifestyle. The author uses numerous anecdotal, statistical and research based examples to make a compelling case for improving quality of life during any phase by simply moving.

    Depressed? Exercise! Injured? Exercise! Obese? Exercise.

    Spark is an important book because the idea that you might just be able to replace your Lexapro prescription with an hour of Dance Dance Revolution per day is hugely important. The idea that your brain chemistry and your ability to feel good is largely based on how much you move is hugely important.

    I happened to find Spark about a year into a rejuvenation of my own health through exercise so let me add my own anecdotal evidence - exercise can and did allow me to get through depression, panic attacks and has helped me with what is probably a mild case of ADD or ADHD - conditions I once scoffed at as made up.

    Spark is a convincing tome. If it cannot get you to stop popping pills and start exercising ever day, nothing will. I did not give Spark five stars because some of the explanations of how brain chemistry works are a little complex for the general reading public....more info
  • Why putting you and your fitness first is good for everyone - family, job and friends
    This is an exceptional book on why exercise should be the cornerstone of your life.

    The only problem is it may be a little "stiff" for the less scientifically inclined. I have a Masters degree in Engineering Physics and I had to step back in key paragraphs to re-read it. Got it, but it sometimes took patience. On the other hand, it also may be a testament to the depth of this book. It would have been nice if there could have been more tables, charts and figures to help examine the material. Instead of text only to describe biochemical mechanism within the body, there should be accompanying drawings. If there were, then it would have been a 5 out 5.

    What's astounding about this book is that he gives the reader all the latest, myth busting research right up to the end of 2007. All his evidence will have you no longer saying to your kids "Did you finish your homework, then you can go out to play" but rather "Did you finish your playing outdoors, then you can do your homework". Suffice it to say we were never built to sit at a desk. We haven't changed much since the days of tracking down prey with combinations of walking, jogging and sprinting to make the kill. Yet, most people burn less than 50% of the calories that our ancestors did. This is compounded by our lack of focus on fitness coupled to a sedimentary work life. And I think that is the premise of the book and may be the root cause of all the afflictions he goes on to talk about: kid's poor scores in school, adult and child obesity, dementia, parkinson disease and depression to name a few. He also gives the latest research insights for fitness with number of days, hours and intensity levels that are best. Unfortuately, he doesn't go into details of the how to run, weightlift etc. That I think is for another book....more info