Spark: How exercise will improve the performance of your brain – Book Review

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When I was about 27 years old, I was participating in a 3-day training program based on Stephen Covey’s popular book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The trainer, knowing that I’m an Organisational Psychologist and an avid student of all things health and fitness, recommended a book by Dr John Ratey and Eric Hagerman called ‘Spark: How exercise will improve the performance of your brain’.

I was already a firm believer in the saying “healthy body, healthy mind”. I had seen my own mental state drastically improve after I started regularly working out at home in my early 20s. Before that, I was a heavy smoker who was unfit, unhealthy, and certainly unhappy. Within 12 months, I was fit, strong and healthy. I had stopped smoking (and still have nearly 10 years on) and I was feeling a whole lot better about myself.

Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the title of the book and the description given to me by the trainer: John Ratey, a psychiatrist, explains in a simple and easy-to-understand way that there is a heap of research that shows that regular exercise can improve just about every psychological issue that commonly affects people.

So I bought the book, I read it, and I loved it.

The authors discuss various cognitive abilities and psychological disorders, and explain the research that shows that exercise is critical to our mental processes. Depression, anxiety, stress, addiction, issues relating to aging; all of these problems drastically improve – sometimes even disappear – when we exercise regularly. They also explain the physiology and brain chemistry involved, providing a rational, medical basis for why exercise is so beneficial. They end with recommendations on the kinds of exercise we should be doing to make sure our brains are performing to their best, and how to make exercise a regular part of life.

One of the things I loved most about this book was the motivation I felt while reading it. I often found myself torn between a desire to keep turning the pages, and a desire to throw down the book and go and do an intense workout. Now, whenever my motivation to workout is low, I grab this book and read one of the chapters on depression, anxiety or addiction. I find that once I’ve finished I can’t wait to get into my home workout space and get the blood pumping.

Even though I love this book, I recognise that it isn’t perfect, not by any stretch. As the book progresses, it can get repetitive. Ratey and Hagerman seem to believe that people need to hear (or read) something many many times before it really sinks in. Whether they’re right or wrong, by the time you get to the last three or four chapters, there are certainly no surprises. ‘Suffering from ADHD? Guess what, exercise will help with that!’ ‘Having problems due to hormonal changes? Hey, exercise will definitely help with that!’ Some will find the repetitiveness tiresome, but that definitely doesn’t diminish the value that this book holds.

Another criticism of the book is this: Although it’s written in such a way that the majority of readers will understand it even if they have no background in medical science, there are parts where the book gets too technical. Those sections can be difficult to get through, unless you really like that kind of thing in which case you’ll love it.

Overall, I think this is a great book and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in both exercise and the human brain. It is available in both Kindle and hard copy. Since the first edition, it has been updated and is now called Spark: The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. It is still the same book, just with some updates. However, the Kindle version is still the original title. If you’d like to give it a read, you can check the current price here. You may also be able to read it for free with a Kindle Unlimited 30-day trial!

Thanks for reading the book review!

All the best with your home workouts. Remember – When it comes to our health and fitness, we can make the effort, or we can make excuses, but we can’t make both.

THFF – The Home Fit Freak

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