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Spark

The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

By John J. Ratey & Eric Hagerman
10-minute read
Audio available
Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey & Eric Hagerman

Spark (2008) reveals the ways in which exercise improves your health and even your ability to learn, think clearly and cope with stress. These blinks offer real-life examples plus scientific research to explain the innumerable benefits of physical activity and the fundamental connections between body and mind.

  • Anyone who wants to maintain a healthy lifestyle
  • Students of medicine, health care or dietary science
  • People curious about the mind-body connection

John J. Ratey, MD, is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and head of a clinical practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He has published some 60 papers on psychiatry and psychopharmacology.

Eric Hagerman is the director of video and multimedia content at This Old House Ventures. He was formerly the senior editor at Popular Science and Outside, among other magazines. His writing has appeared in many American publications, including Wired magazine.

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Spark

The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

By John J. Ratey & Eric Hagerman
  • Read in 10 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 6 key ideas
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Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey & Eric Hagerman
Synopsis

Spark (2008) reveals the ways in which exercise improves your health and even your ability to learn, think clearly and cope with stress. These blinks offer real-life examples plus scientific research to explain the innumerable benefits of physical activity and the fundamental connections between body and mind.

Key idea 1 of 6

Exercising is not only good for your body but also is good for your brain.

You know that you can tone your muscles by lifting weights. But did you know that your brain is also a malleable organ that gets stronger with use?

Think of your brain as just another big muscle – which means that if you keep your brain active, it will get stronger.

Every time you learn something new, the cells in your brain forge stronger connections to process the new information. But what’s even more fantastic is that physical exercise also helps facilitate this connection process, prepping your brain to learn even more.

But wait a second – how does physical exercise help the brain learn?

Exercise works to boost the brain’s infrastructure, or its ability to create the connections you need to learn. In part, this happens because exercise leads to an increase in the levels of important neurotransmitters that foster connections in the brain, like dopamine and serotonin.

But exercise also physically changes your brain cells, too.

When you work your muscles, these organs produce a specific type of protein known as growth factors. These proteins travel to the brain, where they make brain cells more capable of connecting. Growth factors also supply the building blocks for new brain cells and connections.

And the icing on the cake is that dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that are released as you exercise, also sharpen your focus while improving your mood and motivation.

Thus the more you exercise, the better your brain’s ability to learn!

At Naperville Central High School, many students were struggling with English literacy and were required to attend extra lessons to improve reading comprehension. The school decided to explore the effects of exercise on learning and required that one group perform vigorous exercises right before class.

This exercise program, called Zero Hour PE, improved the group’s reading comprehension by 17 percent – while classmates who didn’t exercise improved only by 10.7 percent.

So clearly, exercise can help boost your brain’s capabilities, but that’s just one of the many benefits of exercise. Next you’ll learn about how exercise alleviates stress.

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