SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain
hit the book stores and has taken off like wildfire. The storyline is simple, "Exercise is the single most powerful tool to optimize your brain function."
This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. The "fitness /MIND-BODY-SPIRIT revolution" has extolled the virtues of exercise for the heart and the rest of the body for many years. It stands to reason that, since the brain is part of the body, it would benefit from exercise as well. The surprise is that-- in spite of the evidence that has been amassed for well over a decade--no one has "gone mainstream" with news about the transformative effects of exercise on the brain...until Dr. Ratey.
In SPARK, Ratey uses laymen's language to weave together science, research, case studies and human interest stories into a fascinating book that proves that regular aerobic exercise has a dramatic effect on the brain. He tells us biologically, chemically, physiologically the why and the how of these results.
Particularly relevant to those of us in the therapeutic world, Ratey says "I want to cement the idea that 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."
His chapters on Learning, Anxiety, Depression, Attention Deficit and Addiction offer that:
1. Mental health professionals should be prescribing regular exercise for all patients, in addition to, and often in place of medication for anxiety, stress and depression.
2. Aerobic exercise has a positive impact on the entire range of depressive symptoms. It is now the first-line treatment in Britain. Exercise is even more important for prevention of depression than it is for treatment.
3. Focus and attention can be dramatically improved in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder through on-going aerobic exercise.
4. A daily practice of sustained physical activity can be transformative for those in the early stages of addiction recovery.
The story of a revolutionary fitness program in Naperville, Illinois is compelling. The Zero Hour PE experiment turned 19,000 kids in the District 203 into not only the fittest kids in the nation but also some of the smartest. The goal of the program was to determine if working out before school would give kids a boost in reading ability and other classes--proving that physical activity sparks biological changes that encourage the necessary brain cell connections that make the brain "ready, willing and able" to learn. The program was also dedicated to teaching fitness instead of sports, giving students the skills to maintain health and fitness for a lifetime! The results were astonishing with students outscoring top-tier schools in national tests but also scoring #1 in the world in an international science test.
The evidence is incontrovertible: Aerobic exercise physically remodels our brains for peak performance and has dramatic impact on Learning, Anxiety, Depression, Attention Deficit and Addiction. These findings challenge therapeutic programs to consider some new "best practices":
TREATMENT PLANS: Exercise will become a strategy for treatment plans: The best programs will have a daily exercise curriculum that includes up to 45 minutes of aerobic exercise.
ACADEMICS: A health & fitness curriculum will teach skills for a lifetime of wellness and provide a post-program exercise plan.
PROGRAM SCHEDULING: This exercise program will be offered first thing in the morning before the academic program commences to create optimal physical and mental conditions for learning.
STAFFING MEETINGS: Students/clients/patients who arrive with diagnosis of anxiety, depression, ADHD, addiction issues, stress and learning challenges will be carefully monitored once they begin a daily exercise regime. A program of sustained exercise has proven effective in mitigating the symptoms of many mental health conditions.
MEDICATION MANAGEMENT: Medical management will be monitored carefully since exercise has proven to improve the causes of many conditions. Studies have proven that medication may be replaced by exercise in many situations.
MEASUREMENT: If possible, programs will participate in longitudinal studies to document and validate the therapeutic effects of exercise.
STAFF CALL TO ACTION: Staff will "lace up" with the students for aerobic fitness.
I'm sure there are many other BEST PRACTICES opportunities that emerge from this book but my mind won't be its best until I go work out! The book should be on the "must read" list. It will change the way you think about aerobic exercise and the impact exercise can have on programs and healing. And perhaps, it will change your understanding of your own brain and your commitment to fitness.
OK...that's it for now...gotta go for a run!
I think the author and reviewer have uncovered a fundamental truth. Exercise used to be a natural part of our day, but sadly, that is no longer true. With all the modern conveniences and time pressures, we want to do everything faster. Kids take the bus to school instead of walking, we zip open dinner and stick it in the microwave instead of standing, chopping and cooking, both parents often have long commutes that shred precious minutes we could otherwise be exercising, and we all - yes, yes, me too - spend WAY too much time watching that infernal television. I would love to know if the author offers simple ideas for incorporating exercise into our everyday routines rather than having it be one more thing we struggle to fit into our schedules. I would also love to know if anyone has ever compared the effects of indoor exercise to outdoor exercise. I would bet, but cannot be certain, that being out in nature makes a profound and positive impact on our daily lives. Beth, enjoy your run; I'm going to head out to the garden for a few squats and heavy lifting - yes, I'm weeding.