CameronHelps explores the revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain: book review

The science surrounding the links between exercise and the brain is relatively new. The research is increasing exponentially, rapidly building our understanding. One of the best works on the subject is Spark by Dr. John J. Ratey, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.  He has written several books on the topic of mental health. In Spark, he provides an excellent summary of the current research in mental health.

Spark was written by Dr. Ratey to emphasize the connection between the mind-body dichotomy. In his book he covers the impact of physical exercise on learning, attention deficit, addiction, hormonal changes and aging. Of most interest to CameronHelps, in its goal to reduce youth suicide, Dr. Ratey documents how physical activity has proven to help people in battling with stress, anxiety and depression. For example, he quotes a Duke University study showing that exercise is better than certain drugs at treating depression. Dr. Ratey presents a balanced approach stating that conventional therapies including drugs have their place with exercise being an additional and effective tool to supplement conventional therapies often reducing the duration or in some cases being an alternative treatment.

The book identifies six areas in which exercise alone can help people deal with anxiety:

  • It provides distraction
  • It reduces muscle tension
  • It builds brain resources, BDNF, GABA, Serotonin and norepinephrine
  • It teaches a different outcome – you learn a different response, helping you control anxiety before it turns into panic It reroutes your circuits
  • It improves resilience – controlling anxiety before it turns into panic

In the book, the author says the body and brain response to stress depends on many factors including genetic make-up and personal experience which are often translated as instincts. The way you choose to cope with stress can change how you feel and can also transform the brain, Dr. Ratey says. Chronic stress results from one getting locked into a pattern of response typically marked by pessimism, fear and retreat whereas active coping moves you out of this. Instincts aside, you do have some control; control is key, he maintains.

Dr. Ratey believes that “Exercise is the single most powerful tool you have to optimize your brain function…exercise has a profound impact on cognitive abilities and mental health. It is simply one of the best treatments we have for most psychiatric problems.”

For a more complete synopsis of Spark, check out the author’s website www.johnratey.com

– – Book review courtesy of  Randy Flewelling

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