Book Summary: Spark-The Revolutionary New Science Of Exercise And The Brain By John Ratey

john rateys spark book summary
John Ratey’s spark book summary

1 Sentence Summary of Spark by John Ratey

John Ratey’s book Spark shows us how exercise not only help our body to become more resilient and stronger, but it also helps our brain to become more adaptive & function at optimal level.

We feel fresh after doing exercise. But, Why? It not only because it increases the level of dopamine, serotonin & endorphins, of course, they play measure role but we feel better because our brain functions at it’s best after exercising. When our brain functions at its full potential we learn things faster, we can control our emotions, stress & anxiety.

If we know this better, we will include it in our life naturally, not as something we should do. This is the reason Author John Ratey, who is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School wrote the book Spark: The revolutionary new science of exercise & the brain.

In this book, Author John Ratey explained very clearly how the body and mind related to each other and how exercise improves brain functionality. So, let’s start the Spark Book Summary.

A Case Study on Exercise & the Brain

Naperville Central High School started a zero hour physical education program to check the notion that exercise improves student’s performance and learning abilities.

This experiment made 19000 students fittest in the country. Exercise not only improved these students’ physique but also improved their learning. These students noticed the increased awareness, improvement in reading & comprehension.

Physical activity sparks the fire in the brain cells. The more often these cells fired more they bind together making a connection stronger. But why this happened? and what is the relation between the brain and body?

How Exercise Affects Learning?

After running for a mile what exercise did for the Naperville students in the classrooms it can do the same for adults in the classroom of life. It can improve the brain’s potential to log in and process the new information. But how? Let’s see.

Mind-Body Connection

Prefrontal Cortex is an area in the brain that acts like a CEO. It does the executive functions like receiving inputs, planning, judging, organizing & assigning them to the brain’s other areas.

Hippocampus is the area in the brain related to memory & learning. It receives the information from working memory, compares with the stored information, creating new associations & reporting back to the prefrontal cortex.

Along with these areas, you might know that our brain consists of a hundred billion neurons or brain cells. When we do any activity or learn new things, this brain cell fires and carries the signal. When we repeat activity brain cell fire more easily and faster will be the transmission of a signal. These neurons or brain cells govern our thoughts, actions, and emotions.

Along with these brain cells, there are neurotransmitters that play an important role in the working of the brain. These neurotransmitters are serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Serotonin helps to keep brain activity under control. It affects mood, anger, aggressiveness, and impulsivity. Norepinephrine amplifies signals that influence attention, perception, and motivation.

Dopamine affects the learning ability, satisfaction and movement. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a protein that helps brain cell growth and gives strength to signal. Exercise balances these neurotransmitters by increasing their level and makes the brain calm, attentive and ready to learn.

When we learn a new french word, Prefrontal cortex fire along with Hippocampus and other connections. After learning that word prefrontal cortex goes dark & focus on new challenges. This is how activities like riding bikes become second nature.

When we exercise we are also exercising these areas of the brain involved in cognitive functions. We are causing the brain to fire the signals along with the same network of cells which makes the connection stronger. Thus morning walk is important.

Exercise improves learning on three levels

  1. It optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness, attention, and motivation.
  2. It prepares and encourages cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information
  3. It helps the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus.

Exercise Your Options

Now you convinced that exercise can help to any aspect of our life. The main question is that, how much exercise one should do to get the result?

One small but scientifically sound study from Japan found that jogging thirty minutes just two or three times a week for twelve weeks improved executive function.

But according to one experiment on rats found that after doing activities such as walking across balance beams, unstable objects, and elastic rope ladders which involve motor skills these rats had a 35 percent increase of BDNF in the cerebellum, whereas the running rats had none in that area.

Thus the author suggests doing skill-based activities like tennis, asanas of yoga, dancing along with aerobic exercises.

At this level, you burning fat in the body and generating the necessary elements for all the structural changes in the brain. Mix aerobic exercise, Jumping rope, Yoga as these activities build strength, balance, and flexibility.

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Stress The Greatest Challenge

Losing a job and simple walking both are stressful activities, how? Because mental stress and physical moment both activate neurons. But physical stress a make neurons more resilient and mental stress break them and create anxiety and depression.

There is a certain threshold or limit above which a person fill stressed. If you do aerobic exercise at 60 to 65% of maximum heart rate it dramatically increases anxiety and depression by balancing neurotransmitters and increasing Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

Anxiety- Nothing to Panic About

Anxiety is a neural reaction to a threat. When you are about to give a speech in front of a huge audience, anxiety sharpens your attention, so that you can meet the challenges. The physical symptoms of anxiety are an increase in health beats, sweat, feeling tense, chest pains, panic attacks.

Emotionally, you are feeling fear. Before a speech, you are concerned about whether you can make it or not? Feeling anxious when there is a threat is totally normal.

But feeling anxious when there is no real threat & nothing to worry about is not normal. That’s an anxiety disorder.

Traditionally people used to get look for medicines to overcome anxiety. But according to author John Ratey exercise can reduce anxiety.

In 2004 a researcher named Joshua Broman-Fulks from the University of Southern Mississippi tested whether exercise would reduce anxiety sensitivity. He found 45 college students who have anxiety disorders. He divided them into two groups. Both groups did the running for 20 mins for 2 weeks. But students in one group ran at the intensity of 50% of their max heart rate & the second group ran at 60-90% max heart rate.

Researchers found that the anxiety of students in both groups reduced but only the group with high-intensity exercise felt less afraid of physical symptoms of anxiety.

The theory is that when we increase our heart rate and breathing in the context of exercise, we learn that these physical signs don’t necessarily lead to an anxiety attack. We become more comfortable with the feeling of our body being aroused, and we don’t automatically assume that the arousal is noxious.

How exercise makes you less anxious?

  • It provides distraction
  • It reduces muscle tension
  • It builds brain resources
  • It teaches a different outcome.
  • It reroutes your circuits
  • It improves resilience.
  • It sets you free

Depression- Move Your Mood

Depression used to consider as a psychological problem. In the 1950s it was discovered that an experimental tuberculosis drug made people happy. This led to researchers think about how the brain controls mood & biological connection for what had been considered an entirely psychological problem.

Fifty years later, we still don’t know what causes depression but we have learned about the biology of mood. And the more we learned about the biology of mood, the more we came to know that how aerobic exercise alters it.

How exercise reduces depression?

When we exercise, endorphins releases in our brain. Endorphins are considered stress hormones. They calm the brain and relieve muscle pain during exercise.

Usually, depressed people don’t move. They are unmotivated & uninterested. When they do running or some kind of exercise, chemicals like dopamine, serotonin release which are related to happiness & satisfaction. With the exercise, they get the feeling of accomplishment.

Attention Deficit- Running from Distraction

It’s easy to get distracted in the world. It’s become so full of information, noise, and interruptions that all of us feel overwhelmed and unfocused at times. The amount of data in the world is doubling every few years, but our attention system, like the rest of the brain, was built to make sense of the surrounding environment as it existed ten thousand years ago. The truth is, everyone has a different level of attention deficit.

The ADHD is a lack of control of impulse and attention, which is controlled by prefrontal cortex. The best way to increase focus and attention is to exercise.

Exercise boosts levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. Exercise benefits the prefrontal contex which helps to increase focus and attention.

Addiction- Reclaiming the biology of Self-control

Accoring to author john ratedy, thirty minutes of rigorous aerobic exercise five days a week is minimum, if you want to root out the addiction. Exercise reduces the cravings & with the help of exercise, you will start gaining what your body lose with addictions like smoking or drinking. Exercise reduces the cravings. It also helps with depression and anxiety, which will help addict to not feel hopelessness & anxious while quitting an addiction.

Hormonal Changes- The Impact on Women’s Brain Health

“HORMONES HAVE A powerful influence on how our brains develop as well as on our feelings and behaviors and personality traits throughout life. After adolescence, hormone levels remain fairly steady in men, but in women, they fluctuate like clockwork.

The constant shifting affects every woman differently, and this must be factored in to any discussion of brain health. Exercise is particularly important for women because it tones down the negative consequences of hormonal changes that some experience, and for others, it enhances the positive.

Overall, exercise balances the system, on a monthly basis as well as during each stage of life, including pregnancy and menopause.”

Establish a Routine

Author John Ratey suggest, getting out there at least four days a week and walking briskly or jogging or playing tennis or engaging in some form of activity that will get your pulse up to 60 to 65 percent of your maximum heart rate.

You want to keep it there for an hour. People always want to know what type of aerobic activity is best, and the answer is whatever is going to allow you to build it into your lifestyle. The important thing is to stick with it, and make sure you’re elevating your heart rate enough to get the benefits.

Aging- The Wise Way

Getting older is unavoidable, but falling apart is not. Why is it that some people live one hundured years with less health issues while others live with chronic diseases that rob their mental & physical function? To understand this, we need to first understand life and death at cellular level.

As we age, cells throughout the body gradually lose the ability to cope up with the stress. In the brain, when neurons get worn down from cellular stress, synapses erode, which eventually severs the connections. Also our brain loses it’s ability to compensate dead patches & creates even more damaging proteins.

exercise sparks connections and growth among your brain’s cell networks. It increases blood volume, regulates fuel, and encourages neuronal activity and neurogenesis.

Because the aging brain is more vulnerable to damage, anything you do to strengthen it has a more pronounced effect than it would on a young adult. That’s not to say starting early isn’t important — if you have a better, stronger, more connected brain going over the hill, it will surely be more resilient and resist neuronal breakdown that much longer.

Exercise is preventive medicine as well as an antidote. Age happens. There’s nothing you can do about the why, but you can definitely do something about the how and the when.

The Regimen- Build your brain

Exercise is the single most powerful tool to optimize you brains function. Many researches shows that better your fitness level, the better you brain works. But, how much exercise should I do for my brain? John ratey suggest to first get fit and then constantly challenge yourself.

Research shows that the more fit you are, the more resilient your brain becomes and the better it functions both cognitively and psychologically. If you get your body in shape, your mind will follow.

With this, we come to the end of John Ratey’s Spark Book Summary. After reading spark book summary I’m sure that you are inspired to build habit of exercising. I will recommend you go through the book to explore all the ideas in detail. See you the next week with another summary. Till then happy reading and happy exercising.

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Omkar Mirajgave

Omkar Mirajgave

Omkar Mirajgave is the founder of He is an avid book reader. After reading 100+ book summaries and 80+ books, he realized book summaries can help him choose better books. He writes about interesting book summaries, reading tips, the best books to read, and everything related to books!