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Published by Quercus. First published 2009. Kindle edition.
Other editions have the title: ‘Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain’ – this is the same book.
Why did I read this book?
I chose to read ‘Spark: How exercise will improve the performance of your brain‘ because it was recommended on another blog. It looked interesting and relevant to me, especially as I have been having issues with anxiety lately so I thought it might help with that. I have always known that exercise is healthy and beneficial, and have intended to exercise a lot. But sometimes my motivation slips and I skip exercise. I thought that reading this book would give me a boost in motivation to exercise and help me to do it more regularly.
It has certainly had the desired effect! The book is filled with convincing studies and examples showing the many benefits of exercise on the brain. It goes into specific topics including stress, anxiety, depression, attention deficit, addiction, hormonal changes and ageing, and how exercise can have benefits in each of these areas. It definitely makes you see exercise in a new light, and realise that it has effects beyond just the physical. I would recommend this book to anyone who needs a boost in motivation to do more exercise.
What is it like to read?
The book includes a lot of scientific language when explaining the chemistry of the brain. Sometimes these sections were quite difficult to read. But even if you skim over the scientific sections, or don’t fully understand them or retain the information, you would still get an impact from the book. There are plenty of sections that are easy to read, including lots of case studies of real people whose lives have been improved by exercise. I have only just finished reading the book and already I cannot recall all the names of hormones and exact mechanisms of brain chemistry. But I don’t need to. I have learnt that good stuff happens in the brain when we exercise, and that is enough to motivate me.
The book gives some useful practical guidelines on how much exercise you should do, and at what intensity. But it doesn’t go into huge detail on this, because it is mainly a scientific book, rather than an exercise programme. So if you are looking for precise instructions on how to exercise, then a different book may be more suited to you. If, however, you are interested in learning about how exercise affects the brain, you will like this book.
What I didn’t like
One thing I didn’t like about the book is that it describes experiments that have been done on animals, mostly rats. I don’t agree with such experiments because they are cruel. The experiments were not done specifically for this book, and the author is just citing them. But I still wish that the information had been discovered by other means (even if it meant that the book would not have been written until years later) or that the author had chosen only to cite experiments that had been done on humans. This is the reason I am only giving the book 4 out of 5.
John J. Ratey has written some other books that look interesting, so I would like to read them in the future!