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Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

John J. Ratey MD, Eric Hagerman · 11 HN comments
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Amazon Summary
A groundbreaking and fascinating investigation into the transformative effects of exercise on the brain, from the bestselling author and renowned psychiatrist John J. Ratey, MD. Did you know you can beat stress, lift your mood, fight memory loss, sharpen your intellect, and function better than ever simply by elevating your heart rate and breaking a sweat? The evidence is incontrovertible: Aerobic exercise physically remodels our brains for peak performance. In Spark, John J. Ratey, M.D., embarks upon a fascinating and entertaining journey through the mind-body connection, presenting startling research to prove that exercise is truly our best defense against everything from depression to ADD to addiction to aggression to menopause to Alzheimer's. Filled with amazing case studies (such as the revolutionary fitness program in Naperville, Illinois, which has put this school district of 19,000 kids first in the world of science test scores), Spark is the first book to explore comprehensively the connection between exercise and the brain. It will change forever the way you think about your morning run -- -or, for that matter, simply the way you think.
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Hacker News Stories and Comments

All the comments and stories posted to Hacker News that reference this book.
There are other cases / studies that point to similar cognitive improvements through exercise.

There was a case study I read in the book linked below and it indicated that test scores improved dramatically when they had kids exercise before learning. It states that the improvements occurred regardless of physical ability as long as participants aimed to achieve their personal best during exercise.

I can't speak to the quality of the research but it is interesting and does not surprise me.


Jul 28, 2019 · Vekz on In Praise of Walking
The relationship between physical activity and neuroplasticity touched on in this article is also deeply discussed in the book:

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

Read this quite recently, indeed a very good read.
This video and this book suggest that it’s movement.

They talk about how complex movement in creatures typically correlates with the size of the brain.

Anecdotally, I’ve been doing the Cambridge Brain Sciences[1] tests every so often over the past few months to see how various things affect my score (mainly because I wanted to see which nootropics were most effective) and the best scores always occurred on days where I got exercise and the worst scores were in days where I didn’t and also got little sleep.

My absolute best scores (99.5 percentile, although the next days scores were much, much lower and my average has been about 50-60ish) were on a day when I got approx 1.5 hours of brisk walking (throughout the day, not all at once), 8+ hours sleep the night before and I had been taking nootropics. I imagine diet also plays a part, but I’ve not yet experimented. I’m also not sure f sleep or exercise affects me most positive, but together they certainly make a huge difference.

Nothing conclusive, for sure, but it does make me think that exercise/movement may play a big part.


The youtube video mentions BDNF. The hilarious 'Exercise boosts brain power' video of says "BDNF are created when you exercise".

Highly recommended book BTW, IMHO a must for anyone who learns as it explains scientific brain research in layman's terms. It explains how we humans are ruled by our brains. When you understand your brains better, you can make better use of them. In conjunction with Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister, a golden couple.

Thanks, I’ll check that out.
Adding a plug for Ratey's book "Spark" ( which is a pretty good lay introduction to a lot of the research on cognition and exercise as well as exercise's role in ameliorating depression, anxiety, stress response, and some neurological deficits. Recommended by my physician. Turns out the wonder drug we were looking for might have been "take a lap".
Yup, one of the premises of this book:

Its also humorous to note that the in many schools of Chinese Yoga (Qi-Gong) and Tai Chi, the first pose given is a horse stance. Where you simply stand and relax into the bone structure of your body, then continue for hours on end, (for sometimes many years with this single pose depending on the student).

Short video interview with Branson on dyslexia (and the difference between "net" and "gross"),

HBO 2013 documentary on dyslexia, with Charles Schwab & Richard Branson:

Books with behavioral strategies:

Organizing for the Creative Person,


Learning to Learn,

Learning Outside the Lines,

ADD Success Stories,

Spark (exercise),

The HBO documentary in four 15-min segments:
The cheapest and safest "nootropic" there is is exercise.

Students dramastically improved their grades in several schools once they were made into exercising with a heart rate monitor (higher heart rate - higher grade) every day:

I love dramastically as a portmanteau neologism, but I guess you meant dramatically AND/XOR drastically.
Hehe, I was in a rush while writing that post, it wasn't intentional. I'm not sure which word I intended to write (probably a little bit of both). :)

That being said - it's a fun new word that's actually pretty accurate in this situation. The improvements were drastic, and how drastic they were shocked a lot of people (the drama).

I think the "changes our DNA" is far fetched, but the link between exercise and the neurochemistry in the brain has been proved by multiple studies.

I've mentioned here before, but John J. Ratey recently wrote the excellent Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain[1], where he explains in colorful details what happens in (and to) the brain when you exercise.


A technically more correct way of putting it might have been "alters our gene expression", but that isn't as grabby-- not to mention the additional buzzkill that gene expression constantly changes throughout the body due to a plethora of factors, whether you exercise or not.
Spark, by John J. Ratey, one of the pioneers of studying ADHD and the impact of exercise on the brain.

I'm glad to see the article, but if you're interested in the effects of physical exercise over the brain in general - not only depression, but brain development, neuronal growth, memory retention, degenerative brain diseases - you should read "Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain" [1].

It's a great book, summarizing all the studies and discoveries around brain health and the link with body biochemistry and exercise over the past 50 years. Not the typical common wisdom of "exercise is good for you", but a more serious and deep analysis of why it is good, and what exactly it does to your brain, at a biochemical level.

As a person that always knew how much exercise is important for the body - but always hated exercising - this book gave a reason to pause and re-think my priorities.

If you care about your brain, read at least the sample chapters and see if you like it.


Does the book recommend a specific kind of exercise? What I mean is does it say aerobic or strength training or something is key?
It shows that exercise is great for the brain. Any exercise. Of course, there's different kinds of neurochemical reactions to aerobic vs. strength training, but in the end both have positive effects.
As a person who always hated exercising, too, I can tell you that it's just a matter of starting and then stick to it until "something" clicks and makes you crave exercise like you crave food or sleep. If knowing what's the neurological basis that makes exercise so useful for our body, is what keeps you going, that's great. But really, any reason will do. My reason: proving to myself that I have a stronger will strength than I used to think and believe for so many years. When I don't exercise (for me that means also practicing Ashtanga Yoga) for like a week because of external reasons, I experienced a deep slash of depression -- real depression, like seeing everything black, totally unmotivated self-loathing and so forth. Luckily, it's just a matter of getting a good hour of intense excercise and the day after I'm back on track. There's definitively something chemical going on there.

Thanks for the book suggestion

Can anyone comment if just walking counts for exercising?
Depends on how fit you are, I guess. I need to train at higher intensity to "feel" it as excercise. nonetheless, it's a great way for people to start, if it's not a solution for the lazy, like "hey I walked thirty minutes home from work, now I deserve my sofa"
Yes it does.

If you're particularly overweight or have joint/back or other health issues you may want to consult your physician about how to improve past a slower paced walk. But if your joints and heart are otherwise healthy, it's pretty good exercise for getting in better shape, losing/maintaining weight, and for getting to spend some time outside in the sun and fresh air.

> When I don't exercise (for me that means also practicing Ashtanga Yoga) for like a week because of external reasons, I experienced a deep slash of depression

Yep, that's the flip side. It helps fight depression, but it also has an addictive side to it. Fortunately it's really not as time consuming as you'd think, but taking a whole week off is almost out of the question

John Ratey wrote several good books on ADD/ADHD as well as this one: _Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain_ - it is pretty good.
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