Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Spark - Exercise for Smarts and Mental Health

Usually I'd hoard my posts for points, trying to spread them out one a day, but I came across this book on Amazon while hunting for pedometers (thank you again, Melissa) and it's so cool, I have to share it now! It's called Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey.

Here are some excerpts:

Introduction - "We all know that exercise makes us feel better, but most of us have no idea why. We assume it's because we are burning off stress, or reducing muscle tension or boosting endorphins, and we leave it at that. But the real reason we feel so good when we get our blood pumping is that it makes the brain function at its best, and in my view, this benefit of physical activity is far more important--and fascinating--than what it does for the body.

...But we no longer hunt and gather, and that's a problem. The sedentary character of modern life is a disruption of our nature, and it poses one of the biggest threats to our continued survival...
[lots of stats on America's obesity epidemic] What's even more disturbing, and what virtually no one recognizes, is that inactivity is killing our brains too--physically shriveling them.

...To keep our brains at peak performance, our bodies need to work hard. In
Spark, I'll demonstrate how and why physical activity is crucial to the way we think and feel. I'll explain how the science of exercise cues the building blocks of learning in the brain; how it affects mood, anxiety and tension; how it guards against stress and reverses some of the effects of aging in the brain; and how in women it can help stave off the sometimes tumultuous effects of hormonal changes.

[speaking of neurotransmitters and most psychiatrists' knowledge]... They don't know that toxic levels of stress erode the connections between billions of nerve cells in the brain or that chronic depression shrinks certain areas of the brain. And they don't know that, conversely, exercise unleashes a cascade of neurochemicals and growth factors that can reverse this process, physically bolstering the brain's infrastructure. In fact, the brain responds like muscles do, growing with use, withering with inactivity. The neurons in the brain connect to one another through "leaves" on treelike branches, and exercise causes those branches to grow and bloom with new buds, thus enhancing brain function at a fundamental level.

If exercise came in pill form, it would be plastered across the front page, hailed as the blockbuster drug of the century... I want to cement the idea that exercise has a profound impact on cognitive abilities and mental health. It is simply one of the best treatments we have for most psychiatric problems."

He then goes on in the first chapter to describe a study being done in Naperville, Illinois, where kids have volunteered for an exercise class before school, where they wear heart monitors to make sure they are exercising at a certain level, then their academic progress is tracked through the year. And they perform significantly above comparable classmates.

It looks like a fascinating book, so interesting, that I went out today and got it from the library. Bottom line, not only is exercise good for your body, but it makes you smarter and less crazy, too! Remember my incident after Thanksgiving with the police officer on a cold Wyoming highway? What a lunatic I was?! I went back and checked my records, and I think I hadn't exercised for several days before that. I bet that was a contributing factor, too. So, exercise for your intelligence, mental health and for the sake of the people in your life! And quit arguing with cops!


  1. Becky! I want to run down to my library right now and get that book! It sounds fascinating! It makes sense though, I am a mess if I don't get my energy out through exercise. I always view it as blowing steam, and I've got to release in through exercise, or I'm going to be in trouble. Thanks for sharing that, I love book recommendations.

  2. This sounds like an amazing book. It all makes sense! I always feel so much better when I have worked my body out! Even on Christmas I had to go on a walk. I hate missing more then one day. It drives me crazy!

  3. Yep, makes SO much sense.
    This is great incentive to get off my kiester and get the exercise in. Thanks for the great recommendation!

  4. I love the cop incident!! Awesome! And that does sound like a great book. I am patiently, sometimes not patiently, awaiting the moment where exersize is not forcefully part of my life.