First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Book Review: Spark


Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain
John Ratey with Eric Hagerman
Little, Brown & Company (2008)

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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Friday, March 5, 2010 - Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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