Book Review: Spark

By Leif Hass | June 1, 2008 | 0 comments

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain
By John J. Ratey, with Eric Hagerman, Little, Brown and Company, 2008, 304 pages

Most people recognize the importance of daily physical exercise to their health, even if they can’t bring themselves to do it.

In Spark, Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey gives them yet another reason to get active: Exercise, he argues, has a “profound impact on cognitive abilities” and it “is simply one of the best treatments we have for most psychiatric problems.”

Ratey, who wrote the book with journalist Eric Hagerman, cites numerous studies to support his case for the relationship between a healthy mind and a healthy body.

Exercise, he says, does what most psychiatric drugs do: It boosts levels of serotonin and norepinephrine. It also causes the release of a newly discovered substance in the brain called BDNGF, which Ratey dubs as a “miracle grow” for the brain. Finally, researchers have recently discovered that several areas of the brain devoted to motor function also have critical roles in cognition; physical exercise strengthens the pathways between these areas and might thereby improve cognitive function. 

The studies Ratey covers are mostly small in scale or were conducted with animals, leading one to wonder whether he is always justified in making generalizations from such data. However, the idea that exercise helps optimize brain function is biologically plausible. Daily physical activity has been part of human life for millennia. Just as it helps foster health in our other organs, as Ratey suggests, physical exertion may very well help the brain, too.

Tracker Pixel for Entry

Greater Good wants to know:
Do you think this article will influence your opinions or behavior?

  • Very Likely

  • Likely

  • Unlikely

  • Very Unlikely

  • Not sure


Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

blog comments powered by Disqus



Greater Good Events

The Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators 2017
Clark Kerr Campus, UC-Berkeley
Sunday, June 25 - Friday, June 30, 2017 OR Sunday, July 16 - Friday, July 21, 2017

The Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators 2017

The GGSC’s six-day Summer Institute equips education professionals with prosocial learning strategies, tools and processes that benefit both students and teachers.


Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!


Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.


Greater Good Resources


Book of the Week

Roots of Empathy By Mary Gordon Mary Gordon explains how best to nurture empathy and social emotional literacy in all children—and thereby reduce aggression, antisocial behavior, and bullying.

Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement