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4.4 out of 5 stars43
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 22 May 2008
Excellent book and it provides us with another very powerful reason why we should exercise. Anyone who has ever exercised on a consistent basis will attest to the benifits and now this new research makes it even more important that we develop an exercise program that we can enjoy and that has the power to lift depression, make us more sociable, grows more brain cells, improves our mememory, keeps dementia at bay and so on. In an era where psychiatrists are keener than ever to prescribe anti-depressants that often have the most horendeous side effects its great news to know there is a better way to help ourselves. In many ways the whole concept makes perfect sense but when Ratey provides the research to support the ideas then we can easily see why it is so.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 28 February 2013
As someone who has been tatt (tired all the time) for decades, just reading this book made me feel tired. (In the end I turned out to have both thyroid and adrenal problems but had to go outside the system for proper diagnosis and treatment, while NHS tests were still showing "normal"!) It felt like this book was demanding you do far too much and yet there didn't seem to be much science-based advice.

These two subsequent (and totally science-based books) are more practical, I believe:

- Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?: Fitness Myths, Training Truths, and Other Surprising Discoveries from the Science of Exercise by Alex Hutchinson - more for athletes than couch potatoes

- The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can: Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer by Gretchen Reynolds - here are just a few of the sometimes surprising tidbits:
Exercise (at least moderate exercise) does not rev up your metabolism - you do NOT burn more calories afterwards. Exercise by itself is pretty useless for weight loss but apparently essential for weight maintenance and, on a diet, helpful for weight loss. One group put on a lousy, fattening diet did not gain weight - but only if they exercised first thing in the morning, before eating anything at all. In a 13-year study, the women who diligently did moderate exercise almost every day (brisk walking, swimming, biking or dance classes) for an hour or so gained hardly any weight at all over that time (but this isn't easy to keep up). All of one group who lost over 20 pounds regained weight but those who stuck with an exercise programme for the entire year regained barely half as much. Exercise (cardio or weights, provided there is also HIT) may be the single most important determinant of how long (and well) you live, trumping even smoking and obesity. As a strength-training alternative, yoga and pilates are mildly good for muscular remodeling. The squat is the most potent exercise of all, encapsulating everything you could wish for from strength training as a whole. Just fold your arms across your chest, bend your knees, and lower your trunk until your thighs are about parallel with the floor. Do that 25 times. You don't need to do anything else (and probably won't be able to anyway). Add a weighted barbell once the body-weight squats grow easy. It's simple, allows for progression, builds power and you can do it anywhere!
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This is a decent book with an optimistic message. We can alter our brain growth, chemistry and function by the simple expedient of moving ourselves and doing some exercise. The exercise will boost our physical and mental effectiveness, and counteract, or prevent entirely, our tendencies to be anxious, down, depressed, irritable, poor concentration or "hormonal". Exercise will boost the function of our brains and our bodies to our own and our family's, friends' and colleagues' benefits.

Exercise does this by boosting BDGF and rebalancing the levels of sertraline, norepinephrine (noradrenalin) and dopamine and by helping it get the right balance of excitatory and inhibitory traffic across synapses. The microscopic effects lead on the good macroscopically observable (psychological) effects we can feel and observe. Oh and the exercise is helping your body develop well too.

By the time you have read this book you will have come to realise that exercise is a GOOD THING for your brain and your body. As animals we are meant to move, and we feel better when we travel a certain distance each day under our own efforts.

The real question is does the author establish his case fully? I think mostly he does, but we are taking a lot on trust here. It is obvious in the text that at times the author is referring to specific papers (as he should be in a text making large claims as this one does). The corresponding references are not given so we have to take the author's assertion and we cannot check the references for ourselves. So we are having to take the facts presented on trust...although the author does come across as trustworthy. The lack of references does make for faster reading, but as the book is not long they could have been given.(..or maybe the modern way would be to put the links on a website?)

The second potential drawback of this book is that exercise comes across as a bit of a panacea, which it isn't. I know this book is written as advocacy, but a bit of perspective and review wouldn't go amiss. There's an element of preaching in the book which is within tolerable limits.

The basic thesis of this book is that mental dysfunction is often a reflection of our sedentary and stressed lifestyles and that seems a reasonable proposition. The idea that thinking is a motor act, and intimately related with movement is plausible. The idea that exercise will help a lot of people with mental health problems to get better is one that I hope will become more widespread with time. It offers many people a way out of mental illness that is entirely self help, drug free and readily available. I hope the ideas of this book Spark many of us into action.

I recommend this book, and acting on it. It lost a star for the lack of references and slightly preachy style.
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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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on 9 November 2012
An excellent book, well written and thoroughly backed up with details of recent scientific research, this work by John Ratey describes the beneficial effects of exercise on the brain.

It explains how regular vigorous exercise, such as short, hard, stints on an exercise bike will actually create new brain cells: this is very useful if you are past your peak, as it will help you stay young mentally and physically. For the young, exercise has measureable educational benefits, helping children to learn much better.(As a personal aside from me, exercise has been shown to delay the onset of dementia, although lots of social contact is apparently best for delaying dementia).

I rate this book very highly due to its important message for those interested in staying at their best mentally, definitely in my top 10 most important self-improvement books.
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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.
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on 9 March 2009
Brilliant book...
Describes how brain plasticity is effected by physical exercise or by activities that include complex body/limb movements and how most common psychiatric ilnesses from depression to bipolar personality can be cured with exercise. If you are a regular exerciser it just confirms what you already experience. Highly recommended.
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on 29 August 2009
This book really makes so much sense and was an enjoyable read. Links in well with 'Why love Matters' by Susie Gerhardt

With reference to the one star review about lack of reference in Spark, all the references are available on John Ratey's website under resources, there are a lot of them!
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on 5 December 2014
An interesting and well written book. I am never going to take the time to check the references but the author seems to have impressive credentials and doesn't offer "Get better in 15 seconds a day" style advice. Scientific terms are used freely in the text and there is no attempt to dress it up using other language. Would recommend for anyone interested in exercise, sport science or the link between physical and mental well being.
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on 21 February 2010
Apart from some overly deep digressions into brain chemistry, this was a very enlightening book. The frivolous nature of the cover is at odds with the value of the message within.
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