Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

book review

Pat Moran Fitness The book,Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” explains in clear terms the role exercise plays in our mental processes.  It’s written by author, John Ratey, MD and co-author, Eric Hagerman.

John Ratey, MD embarks upon a fascinating journey through the mind-body connection, illustrating that exercise is truly the best defense against everything from depression to ADD to addiction to menopause to Alzheimer’s.  Filled with amazing case studies, the evidence is incontrovertible: aerobic exercise physically remodels our brains for peak performance.  Ratey provides evidence-based conclusions that exercise reduces stress levels, increases the body’s rate of repair, reduces the impact of aging, and, most exciting to me, increases your ability to learn.

The book begins by explaining why exercise makes us feel better and then draws conclusions that show how critical exercise and movement are to our cognition. According to Ratey, “The real reason we feel so good when we get our blood pumping is that it makes the brain function at its best.”

Moving our muscles produces proteins that play roles in our highest thought processes, including increasing the number of brain cells we have. He credits our large complex brains’ to match the complexity of movement our bodies are able and indeed meant to perform. According to Ratey, “thinking is the internalization of movement.” He illustrates this with the story of the sea squirt that hatches with a rudimentary spinal cord and 300 brain cells. It has only hours to find a spot of coral on which to put down roots or die. When it does put down roots, it eats its brain. According to Ratey only a moving animal needs a brain.

What’s more, in SPARK, the authors explain the science of how exercise cues the building blocks of learning in the brain; how it affects mood, anxiety and attention; how it guards against stress and reverses some of the effects of aging in the brain; and how in women it can help stave off the sometimes tumultuous effects of hormonal changes.

All in all, the book’s main purpose is to get readers to understand how physical activity improves brain function. It motivates readers to incorporate and indeed prioritize exercise into the routine, preferably a morning routine to take full advantage of its positive effects.

The book is repetitive, but like a workout regimen, the repetition strengthens the conviction that exercising is essential to a long, healthy and happy life.

Mind and Body Through Holistic Fitness

Patrick Moran efficient living

Humans have voracious tendencies. We are rarely satisfied, and there seems to always be one more thing to do. Periods of idleness feel more anxious than restorative.

A byproduct of our constantly buzzing minds is an insatiable appetite for more. We’ve become conditioned for an overload of to-do’s. Unproductive time can feel tortuous, as tasks undone box out would be peace-of-mind.

But valuing our time doesn’t mean we must  constantly be on the go. Nor, does it mean we shouldn’t set aside time to relax, absent of work.

Rather, we can achieve a happy medium by maximizing efficiency during work, while protecting our free time. This balance allows us to complete tasks efficiently, while ensuring we spend completely removed where we often find new insights.

One thing is certain: it takes a lot less time to do a lot more in today’s age. Find solace in the fact that what we can do now, would be mystical to our ancestors. Waiting for an email response is petty compared to awaiting reply via letter carrier on horseback.

But to deny these advantages or shrug off our current capabilities, denies what it means to be human and discounts the efforts of our forebears.

It’s incumbent upon us to leverage the advantages of our time.. That requires filtering out less important activities while focusing on those that enrich our lives. As we sharpen our focus and lock-in what’s truly important, the unimportant and irrelevant activities in our lives take a back seat. We can immerse ourselves in the task at hand and reach a psychological state called flow.

The process by which we develop priorities–checklists, pro-con lists, or instinctive gut feelings–is far less important than fostering discretion towards what activities we elect to engage in during this age of rapidity and digitization.

This fact alone can be unsettling, as trying to stay active all day can seem draining. And yet, when we maximize flow, we find our appetite for activity healthy, if not stronger, as it was before. Working better now means working smarter, not harder and longer.  Efficiency can now be the best measure of good judgment, not sheer labor.

There isn’t time or energy for unlimited competition and mindless attempts to do everything. In fact, burning out is the greatest detriment to a valuable lifestyle.

The key to efficiency is doing everything we prize most, without being bogged down by distractions or meaningless activities.  We have to organize ourselves such that the activities we choose to do are the most rewarding to our personal experiences.

Whether this is time spent on vacation, or at work, you can experience near-maximum productivity and enjoyment. Efficiency results from this form of mental and emotional engagement.

The opposite of rewarding engagement is, of course, idleness. Certain activities like traveling or waiting seems to err towards idleness. Fortunately, there are tools and techniques to maximize this time as well, when necessary. For more on those, check out How to Live Efficiently here.

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