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Spark summary

John J. Ratey & Eric Hagerman

The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

4.4 (292 ratings)
12 mins

Brief summary

In 'Spark', authors John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman explain how exercise can optimize cognitive performance, improve memory, and boost mood. The book provides evidence-based insights into how physical activity benefits the brain and offers practical advice for getting moving.

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    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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    What is Spark about?

    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.

    Spark Review

    Spark (2008) explores the connection between exercise and the brain, making a convincing case for the transformative power of physical activity. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • By revealing scientific evidence of exercise's positive impact on the brain, it offers a compelling argument for incorporating physical activity into our daily routines.
    • Through real-life stories and case studies, the book illustrates how exercise has been used successfully to treat conditions such as ADHD, anxiety, and depression.
    • With its engaging and informative approach, Spark encourages us to prioritize exercise and highlights how it can enhance our cognition, mood, and overall well-being.

    Best quote from Spark

    To keep our brains at peak performance, our bodies need to work hard.

    —John J. Ratey & Eric Hagerman
    example alt text

    Who should read Spark?

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

    About the Author

    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 FAQs 

    What is the main message of Spark?

    The main message of Spark is that exercise has a profound impact on our brain health and overall well-being.

    How long does it take to read Spark?

    The reading time for Spark varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Spark a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Spark is a compelling read that highlights the powerful connection between physical activity and mental health. It's definitely worth exploring.

    Who is the author of Spark?

    The authors of Spark are John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman.

    What to read after Spark?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Spark, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Exercised by Daniel E. Lieberman
    • The Joy of Movement by Kelly McGonigal
    • Master Your Core by Bohdanna Zazulak
    • Jog On by Bella Mackie
    • Eat It! by Jordan Syatt and Michael Vacanti
    • Deep Work by Cal Newport
    • The Book of Why by Judea Pearl and Dana MacKenzie
    • Visual Thinking by Temple Grandin
    • Endure by Alex Hutchinson
    • Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki