Book Review: Spark by Dr. John Ratey

All right today, I hope we got some bookworms out there because today we’re doing a book review of my favorite book in health and fitness. So pay attention today we are cracking open spark by Dr. John Ratey.

Audio Transcript Below

Health REBELs is charting a new path to health, one that’s dedicated their focus to wellness, not athletics. Here we break free from common standards and redefine healthy living by following the REBELs Oath.

The REBELs oath says

  • Reject extremes
  • Energize ourselves through healthy habits
  • Break free from common standards
  • Excite ourselves about our potential, and finally,
  • Love ourselves and act accordingly.

Personal Training Spokane The Health R.E.B.E.L.s Oath20

One of my favorite parts about my group coaching experience is Every quarter we do a book club. I send out my clients a paperback copy of the book that we’re all reading. Typically paperback, some books aren’t yet in paperback. But that’s that’s a tangent. That’s my personal preference, whatever. What’s more important is that I send out a book, we all go over it. And then at the end of the month, we’ll kind of share our thoughts, our ideas or ways to implement it and discuss that book.

There’s a couple of things I really love about this book club one, one of the core values with Health REBELs is to continually improve. One of the greatest ways to continually improve is to gain new insights is to always consider new ways and improve some slight way and make some slight change that that makes us better. Reading books gives us that opportunity. And I often try to select books that sometimes are not always in perfect alignment with with the way I coach clients. Actually, I just sent out a book to clients called the F*** It diet by Carolyn dooner.

And I love that book really loved Carolyn. But some of the stuff… not the exact methods I would use in my coaching. But it’s gonna be really great to get other considerations and other perceptions and see what kind of improvements and shifts we can make in our own practice. But anyway, the first book, The first book that I recommended and gave out in the book club was a book called Spark, the revolutionary new science behind exercise and the brain. And it was written by Dr. John Ratey.

Dr. John Ratey, is a clinical psychiatrist as well as a researcher. I believe, I believe he’s a researcher for Harvard, I haven’t double checked that. So don’t quote me on it, please. But huge, huge guy have been in the industry for God probably longer than I’ve been alive, really smart cookie. And what I loved about his book was it talks about exercise and the brain. Far too often in this industry, the only thing we ever talked about is exercise and your waistline.

And it was great to get people benefits out of exercise other than weight management. In fact, in the book, there were a lot of things that he said that exercise does with brain health, that can impact our cognitive and learning ability. It can impact our mood regulation, it can improve our attention and focus, it can improve executive function in the brain. It can also there was a fun little chapter we’ll go into it can improve social dynamics. It can improve your confidence, it can increase brain cell growth, it can help with stress management, it can also help with anxiety and depression.

And it can also help with aging and preventing those those diseases of mental decline like Alzheimer’s, dementia, feelings of being senile memory loss. There were so many benefits that Dr. Ratey talked about with exercise and the brainthat went so much better, so much deeper, so much further than just the waistline. And I love that book. And it was great. It’s encouraging. It’s inspiring. Every time I give someone this book and we go through this book, they feel energized and excited to exercise more often. And there’s been a lot A lot of times I remember talking with clients during this book club that there were times when they couldn’t do a full workout, they couldn’t make their 60 or 30 minute workout, but they knew the effects and the benefits that it had on brain health. And they said, “You know what, it’s worth finding 10 minutes to do something today, it’s worth finding five minutes to do a little bit of something because I want those benefits. I want to improve my brain health.”

Right. I love this book, because it is encouraging. It’s aspirational, and it’s inspirational. And like I mentioned, it doesn’t live in that really toxic weight waste management area, or sorry, not waste management. It doesn’t live in that toxic weight management area. You know, I listed off a bunch of things that the book said exercise improves, we’re going to talk about three of those today. Now, obviously, that is not the full list. If you want to go deeper on the subject, I 110% recommend you getting sparked by Dr. John Ratey.

But we’re going to talk today about the cognitive and learning ability. We’re going to talk about its effects on anxiety, and we’re going to talk about the social dynamics. So the first thing that we want to talk about is the cognitive and learning ability. The book opens up with learning that is the very first chapter that it talks about, and it highlights a revolutionary physical education program out of Naperville, Illinois. Now, some background on Naperville. Naperville is a fairly small town, it’s a suburb of Chicago. And their test scores are extraordinary. Now they admit there are some socio economic factors at play here.

But on international testing scores in math and science, you’re probably familiar with this. America gets trounced by a lot of the more a lot of the Asian countries, a lot of the Asian countries are leaving the world in science and math education. But there’s one exception. Naperville, Illinois if it was its own country, on that test score ranks in the top five I believe and I should have cracked open the book to fact check this but it just came up to my mind was I believe in at the time of publication America ranked somewhere around 19th 19th in the world for science and math, but Naperville Illinois, got in the top five.

And it highlights one of their revolutionary physical education programs. It’s called PE for life. And what it does, instead of being a sport based physical education instead of being sport based PE, I’m sure you remember High School PE there was there was the running test, there was the mile there was dodgeball, there were there were a lot of sports activities in PE class. But Naperville had to be Fitness based and individual based you got to choose your activity. The only standard was that you had a heart rate monitor, and they tried to monitor your intensity based on your own heart rate. They didn’t measure you on external standards. They didn’t measure how fast you could run. They didn’t they didn’t grade you based on how many pushups you could increase to they didn’t grade you on strength. They didn’t grade you on any of this. They graded you on your own individual effort level of effort as monitored my heart rate monitors.

Right. And so they did this and they they also had a part of this program where they would deliberately schedule students PE classes before their most difficult subject. So if you had poor grades in science, or if you had poor grades in history, they would rearrange your schedule so that you would have PE class immediately before those subjects and they found that test scores improved. Like and there’s there’s a couple of different chemicals that the body releases during an exercise that they attributed this to. One was BDNF, brain derived neurotrophic factor. They call this the Miracle Gro for the brain and nerve cells, you sprinkle BDNF, BDNF into the bloodstream, and brain cells grow really amazing stuff.

There’s also a an F atrial trophic neuron or atrial neurotrophic factor, sometimes also called ANP. I atrial Neurotrophic peptide, depending on that terms interchangeable, depending on what literature you’re reading at that time. But that is atrial means that it’s comes from the heart. When your heart rate hits a certain elevation, your heart is going to release this. And it helps facilitate brain health as well. And they found that exercise kind of promotes learning in three ways, right? When you exercise, it optimizes your alertness, your attention and your motivation. Right. So exercising before work perhaps can make you more alert ready to receive the feedback and operate at a higher level.

Or in this case with learning before school or before your heart is subject. Right. It also prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind together because of that BDNF and the ANSF release. So when brain cells and nerve cells can bind together, they work faster and stronger, and they get a more optimized connection so that our learning patterns can become stronger and more rapid. And then also with with the BDNF, it also spurs the development of new brain cells. It was a really fascinating exploration into how exercise makes us learn better, it makes us think better, it makes us operate cognitively on a higher higher ability.

And so if you’re trying to if especially if you have work that is cognitively demanding, exercise can be a great way to improve the quality of your learning, and the quality of your work with that. The second thing that I want to talk about was kind of their chapter on anxiety, exercise was found to help with anxiety. Now, Dr. Ratey, being a psychiatrist and being a researcher talked about the two different pathways of anxiety. There’s the physical state, what your body goes through during an anxiety episode, the physical state, the fluttering of the heart rates, the the queasiness in the stomach, right, that physical state of being anxious.

But there’s also the mental the psychological trait of being anxious. Dr. Ratey talked about both. And obviously, exercise is going to be more obviously impacted on the physical state of anxiety, right, we talked about anxiety gives us fluttering heart rates, higher elevated heart rates, they increased circulation increases blood pressure, right, those physical responses to anxiety are the same exact responses we get to exercise. Exercise stimulates the state so that it can condition that trait to understand that it’s a safe environment. Right? When we exercise, we physically go under anxiety in a position that our mind understands is safe. And so it gets us opportunity to practice that physical state and to condition our mental trait to understand the safety there.

What that does is it prevents us from snowballing into terror into anxiety into growing up making a small episode into a giant episode. Right? Are they also found that exercise stimulates and balances the same exact neurotransmitters as anti anxiety drugs do. Right? So the medications that we use for anti anxiety, they released the same chemicals that exercise releases. Exercise is essentially a low dose anti anxiety medicine. Now, of course, I do want to disclaim right here right now that this is not saying a substitute for any pharmaceuticals that you currently take for anxiety. This is not something to do instead of medication. This is something to do in the in conjunction and with collaboration with your medical professionals.

But there were various ways that they found exercise benefits anxiety, right in this chapter. They talked about it providing distraction. Sometimes anxiety grows because we get fixated and exercise can be a great distraction. One of the case studies that he showed was one of his clients, one of his patients had a jump rope at home. And anytime she started to feel really anxious and started to feel that build up. She would take three Read minutes and just do jump rope. And it would create that distraction that made those feelings of anxiety, go to the backburner, Go get washed away, and no longer be there to grow. It can also exercise can also reduce muscle tension. One of the symptoms we didn’t talk about in the physical state of anxiety is that that bunched up where you kind of curl up in a ball and physically tense up. Exercise has some tensing. But it’s got this built in contrast with relaxation, every time you flex a muscle during an exercise, it has to relax to get to the next repetition. And so exercise reduces muscle tension.

Also with the BDNF and the A and F that we talked about with cognitive learning, that builds more brain resources. Exercise also teaches us a different outcome, right? Because we get in that physical state of anxiety with exercise, and then we get into a safe outcome, it teaches us a different outcome that changes our mental traits around it. It also reroutes the anxiety circuits. When you’re exercising, you’re going to rewire that circuitry and rewire that neurology to go down different cycles to go down different different avenues and go down different pathways. Exercise also improves resiliency, people that exercise feel more resistant to obstacles, right? When you go through the challenge of exercise, you learn that you can go through challenges, it builds resiliency, there’s a stupid example of this that just came to mind. If you knew me in college, there was one time you know what I’m not going to share with this college story. It’s dumb.

Anyway, exercise improves resiliency, if you want to know the college story, you’re gonna have to shoot me an email, because I’m not putting this out on the interwebs. Anyway, exercise, the last thing it does for anxiety is it sets you free, literally sets you free with that reduced tension and with that change in the physical state, so that you can figuratively set yourself free as well. Right? So thinking about that movement, oftentimes, when we get anxiety, the response is to confine and isolate, to shut down to curl up, get that fetal position, right, our response is to shut down and isolate. With exercise, it’s the exact opposite, you have to move, you have to open up you have to expand. And that gets us out of those anxiety pathways. Right.

So one of the great things in this book was Dr. John Ratey, talked about how exercise helps with anxiety. There’s a lot more mental and mental and cognitive health things that he talked about. But there’s one that was really, really interesting, really, really curious, that I want to spend some time talking about too, and he talked about exercises impact on social dynamics. Now, this was a fun chapter to read, because he talked about one of the PE classes that he studied in a middle school class, you know, during puberty during adolescence during that awkward coming of age time. And the PE class forced the students to do square dancing, how they all square danced, and part of the curriculum around square dancing was having a conversation. This is a time in life when during adolescence we’re starting to get those those those romantic feelings those those interests, but we’re not really well suited and learn how to express that. In sometimes I can stunt social development.

The square dance was an excuse was a physical release to interact with other people and to learn how to have conversations with people, particularly of the other gender, right if forced all the kids into an uncomfortable situation, gave them the physical distraction of exercise. And as they went through the course, learn to have improved social dynamics. They learned to interact with others in a more meaningful way. They they learned how to converse and they learned that that awkwardness that that uncomfortable almost that anxiety of speaking to other people could be overcome. We could fix it We practice overcoming that anxiety, through exercise. And there’s there’s some really interesting things about the social dynamics and exercise.

We still see this today, right group fitness classes. There’s fitness there, but it’s really about the group, the social dynamics. There are one of the one of my favorite professionals out of the buffalo Toronto area. She works with free dominantly aging populations and senior populations. And what that does with similar programs like the YMCA has SilverSneakers physical activity gives us that opportunity to interact with other people and get that social health that improves our mental health and improves our brain health, and improves our aging ability and improves longevity, social health, being social creatures is absolutely crucial.

And exercise can be a great way to facilitate that, and to open up opportunities for that to improve our social dynamics. Right. So those are three chapters. So they went into cognitive learning, anxiety, social dynamics, but it was far, far from the entire book, right? We listed off that list of 11 different benefits this book goes over with exercise in the brain.

In a recent coaching call, I went over 50 benefits that exercise has on the body, right, it goes so much deeper than just weight management and weight loss and trying to look pretty, right exercise is such a dynamic tool that we can use to elevate the quality of our life across the board. Right. And what I love about Spark is it highlights that it highlights how excellent of a tool exercise can be to living your best life. I always tell people, that your best life lives in a healthy body. And this book shows you how your best life lives in a healthy body.

Health should be about having more energy, more confidence in the ability to live life without feeling held back. Right. One of my favorite quotes, we did a whole podcast episode about a couple months back. But from Thomas Carlyle, he says he who has health has hope. And he who has hope has everything. So this book, this book, Spark is about giving people health. It’s about giving people hope. It’s about giving people everything. And it talks about how exercise improves your brain health, which I think is a wonderful conversation to have. And absolutely 110% recommend this book, it is my favorite book, and health and fitness.

So that is my book review of Spark by Dr. John Ratey. If you haven’t heard it, if you haven’t read it, if you don’t own it go out there right now. Don’t wait. Get it on your shelf. It is an incredible book transformative. Absolute absolutely love it. And if you like these book reviews, I’ve got a shelf full of books, I would love to tell you about more and give some of the big takeaways so that you can get inspired to live your healthiest life. Just let me know. Shoot me an email or leave a review on iTunes and let me know if that’s something that you’re into. Anyway, that’s all I got for you today. REBEL, make sure you come on back next week for another episode of the Health REBELs podcast. And until I see you then you know what to do. Keep the REBELs oath. I hope that episode helped give you some steps you can take to break free from common standards so that you can live a happier, healthier life. I’d love to continue to support you on that path to redefining healthy living. So I want to invite you to join my free Facebook group, the Health REBELs community. There we post daily content to redefine what healthy living means by following the holistic wheel and the REBEL of you will also get community support with like minded Health REBELs. If you’re not already a member, search for the Health REBELs community on Facebook or go to REBELs. I look forward to seeing you in there REBEL