Book Club: Spark- The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

It sounds cliche, but if there’s one thing I have realized in my 5 years of practice as a nurse practitioner, it’s the importance of a healthy diet and exercise.  The difference in health, both physical and emotional, between my patients who live fit lifestyles and those who don’t is astounding.

Not only have I noticed this in my practice, but in my personal life as well.  Post-college I decided to get rid of the body those late night cram session snacks and 24-hour access to a frozen yogurt machine had left me and have never felt better.  This is why I was so excited when while chatting with a nurse at work she recommended I read Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.

In Spark, Dr. John J. Ratey explores the connection of the mind and body showing case study after case study to prove that exercise literally remodels our brains.  Exercise helps us perform at our peak not only physically but mentally and is the best defense against ailments from depression to ADD and menopause to Alzheimer’s.

Ratey’s most powerful case study is that of a school in Naperville, IL.  A visionary junior high physical education teacher named Phil Lawler noticed that for most of his students, P.E. was a time of inactivity.  During team sports, students would simply stand around, unengaged.  So, he shifted the focus of his class to fitness.  Incorporating heart rate monitors, students were assessed on effort, rather than skill.  Students were graded on how much time they spent in their target heart rate zone.

Lawler’s changes paid off.  In 1999, Naperville’s eighth grade students scored first in the world in science scores on the international standards test (TIMSS) which included students from 38 countries.  In math they placed sixth.  Schools across the country have adopted the “Spark” philosophy with similar results.  An inner city school in Charleston, South Carolina saw an 83 percent drop in discipline problems when children played fun, vigorous games for 30 minutes every morning before class.

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Spark gets a bit heavy into the actual science behind exercise and the brain but overall presents a compelling argument for activity.  Whether you have a child who could use a GPA boost or are looking for a way to motivate your inactive patients, Spark gives hard reasoning for why we all need to get moving.

Next month’s book club read is The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History.  Should be an interesting read!

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