Faster, stronger, higher, and smarter, too

  • “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.” by John J. Ratey, MD

My good friend Judd Jones, who recently had to give up writing his column on health due to work demands, recommended a book he believed could help me.

That book, by John J. Ratey, MD, is the national best-seller, “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.” The cover goes on to state you can “Supercharge your mental circuits to beat stress, sharpen your thinking, lift your mood, boost your memory, and much more.”

I can’t tell you how the book did all that for me. This is not one of those easy reads that you glide through to relax at night. It’s fairly complex and demands your full attention if you want to understand everything it says. And it says a whole lot. But before we get bogged down, I want to make clear there is one overall message in “Spark.” And that is, “aerobic exercise physically remodels our brains for peak performance.”

What, you ask, is aerobic exercise? Well, running is aerobic exercise. So is walking, biking and swimming. Pretty much, it’s what gets your heart pumping and gets the blood circulating faster, the muscles working harder, than when you’re doing nothing, like watching TV at night while eating dinner.

I like this book, naturally, because it supports my basic belief for some three decades, that exercise is the key in our fight against everything, physically and mentally. I have long believed that running is the cure for what ails us. It’s why I run every day, with my latest streak at 30 days (over 60 if you count a day when I ran to work and home, three-fourths of a mile each way). A world of runners, I’m convinced, would lead to a better world. Perhaps I’m too optimistic about that, but running in the morning makes you an optimist.

All that said, Ratey’s book outlines the link between the body, the brain and exercise. Now, that sounds simple. But fully grasping it, in scientific terms, is far from simple, and in some areas you have to be as intelligent as Ratey to get it.

However, don’t get discouraged. He sums it up this way:

“I have faith that when people come to recognize how their lifestyle can improve their health span — living better, not simply longer — they will, at the very least, be more inclined to stay active. And when they come to accept that exercise is as important for the brain as it is for the heart, they’ll come to it.”

Of particular interest to me was the chapter on aging and how some people age well, maintain sharp minds and strong bodies, while others do not. The critical factor, Ratey writes, is exercise.

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

I tried not to get too caught up in the complexity of the details, as my brain can’t process them. But I took to heart its overall theme: keep moving. Run, bike, swim, walk, skate, whatever you like, whatever gets you out there, whatever gets the blood pumping faster, your heart beating stronger, your muscles working harder.

“You are built to move,” Ratey writes. “When you do, you’ll be on fire.”

I agree. Little is better than returning home from my morning run soaked in sweat.

If you’d like to read this book, I’ve got a copy. I’ll be happy to let you borrow it. Just swing by our office and say “hello.”

•••

Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or bbuley@thegardenisland.com.

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