The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

Book - 2008
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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
Publisher: New York : Little, Brown, c2008
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780316113502
Branch Call Number: 612.76 R187s 2008
Characteristics: ix, 294 p. ; 25 cm
Additional Contributors: Hagerman, Eric


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ArapahoeStefeni Jun 28, 2018

I learned about this book from my son's school and the hugely positive benefits of exercise on the brain. I enjoyed listening to this book on CD while commuting and I'm inspired and motivated to do my best to incorporate daily exercise!

May 07, 2018

The PUBLIC library copy I have was ruined to me because someone chose to underline every other sentence. How rude!

Jan 05, 2018

Spark. An outstanding book on the subject.
John Ratey has compiled great research within each chapters addressing specific conditions such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, stress, menopause, and aging. And, he conveys how exercise improves all those conditions.

Ratey dwelves in physiological details how exercise boosts the levels of various neurotransmitters, hormones, and proteins which in turn positively affect our overall health and cognitive capabilities including memory, learning, mood regulation.

Ratey conveys what specific type of exercises assist specific health situation and cognitive functions. There are tens of related interesting insights throughout the book. I am just mentioning a few examples below.

1) BMI and aerobic fitness are significant markers of academic performance.
2) Three neurotransmitters play a preponderant role in managing our moods, attention, perception, motivation, and movement. They are serotonin (mood), norepinephrine (focus), and dopamine (reward-system, movement). And, the pharmaceutical industry has focused on them: boosting serotonin to manage anxiety and depression; increasing dopamine to manage Parkinson). However, exercise boosts all three without any negative side effects.
3) Norepinephrine boosts the signal quality of synaptic transmission, while dopamine decreases the noise of neuron chatter. Together, they reduce ADHD and enhance learning.
4) Neurogenesis means we can grow neurons at any age. Stress, anxiety, and depression impair neurogenesis. But, exercise fights off those conditions and enhances neurogenesis.
5) A protein, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), builds and maintain neurons and neuron networks. BDNF facilitates the learning process and is important for long-term memories. In addition to synaptic plasticity, BDNF also plays a role in energy metabolism. BDNF also ramps up serotonin levels that help with mood, depression, anxiety. And, exercise boosts BDNF levels.
6) An optimal exercise program combines a skill acquisition exercise and a aerobic one. Tennis and biking fits that. Skill exercise strengthens and expands neural networks. The more complex the movements the more complex the synaptic connections. Aerobic exercise enhances mood by boosting the levels of all three mentioned neurotransmitters.
7) You should vary the intensity of exercise. High intensity exercise boosts the human growth hormone (HGH) which also boosts BDNF. In combination, these are like a fountain of youth.
8) Doing squats can be as effective in boosting HGH levels as running hard for 30 minutes.
9) Paleolithic humans walked and ran 5 to 10 miles a day just to eat. Our sedentary lifestyle is not catered to our DNA, and explains the obesity crisis.
10) Active people reduce their cancer risk by 50%.
11) Every 50 minutes of weekly exercise correlates with a 50% drop in risk of depression.
12) Briskly walking 5 hours a week reduces the risk of gestational diabetes by 75%.
13) Women over 65 who remain physically active are 50% less likely to develop dementia.
14) Diabetes increases your risk of developing dementia by 65%. High cholesterol increases it by 43%. Exercise can assist with both conditions.
15) Exercise prevents inflammation that triggers the plaque accumulation in the brain that causes Alzheimer’s disease.
16) Among individuals over 75, the ones with higher blood glucose levels (but who were still not diabetic) had a 77% higher likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
17) Being overweight doubles the chances of developing dementia. And, when combined with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, the risk increases sixfold.
18) Exercise reduces the risk of colon cancer by 50%.

Nov 29, 2015

Information everyone should know!!!

Christopher99 Jun 05, 2014

This is a wonderful popular science book on the neurological and psychological benefits of exercise.

Yes, we all know the physiological benefits; time and time again it is trotted out.

Yet, how exercise effects the function of the brain and therefore the mind, has never been presented, as far as I know, in a popular form. Dr. Ratey's research career has focused on this very area.

Fascinating to learn how exercise causes dendrite growth, balances the HPA system, increases neurotransmitters, causes neuron growth, lessens effects of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, facilitates greater learning capacity, and sundry other items.

If you are a couch potato, book reader type like I am, this is the evidence you need to get out there and do something physical. Now it just rests with the Will. No more excuses.

runfastread May 31, 2014

Exercise is good for the brain. Really, really good for the brain. In Spark, John Ratey MD, demonstrates how important it is for us to get off the couch and get moving. Not just for our general health or our hearts, but even for our brains. Exercise can help ward off things like depression and even Alzheimer's. It can seriously remodel our brains for peak performance, which is pretty amazing. Even though the book gets repetitive, and is filled with a few too many facts, medical terms, and figures for the average person to digest, it is still a worthwhile read for anyone or any age. Guaranteed, it may make you think about lacing up your running shoes and heading out the door...

Oct 16, 2010

Delightful exploration of the biochemistry taking place while you do squats, lunges, and run on the elliptical trainer.
Why does learning a new motion require so much of us mentally?
Why is exercise so nurturing of the underlying circuitry inside the brain?
Read this and you will delight in learning new steps in dance class.

Sep 14, 2009

I was curious about this book after watching a CBC news piece on a dedicated young teacher who'd upped her students' math marks and solved some behaviour problems simply by getting them to run on a treadmill before class started. She was inspired by this book. See

Ratey's theory is that we're hardwired as hunters and gatherers for a certain level of physical activity, and when we don't get it, our brains don't work properly. It's obvious to anyone with eyes that our sedentary lifestyle is making us fat. Ratey suggests that it's also making us stupid, stressed, and in some cases, addicted. He presents convincing evidence, both from clinical trials and his own medical practice that exercise can help combat grey matter loss, anxiety, stress, ADHD and aging.

Recommended to teachers, or anyone looking for additional motivation to improve their fitness level.


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