Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

Author: John J. Ratey
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by mike_d85   2019-11-17

This is actually a deeply researched thing. I just finsihed Spark recently and the author covers the various impacts of exercise on the neurology of different disorders and aging. IIRC when it comes specifically to depression the brain starts generating hormones more in balance with exercise and specifically with anxiety the brain switches between a stress situation and normal much more quickly with exercise.


Fascinating stuff, even if it does get eye-wateringly detailed about neurology.

by Melete777   2019-11-17

Add in exercise, re: anhedonia. Specifically the type/ratio mentioned in this book;

by Melete777   2019-11-17

by Vekz   2019-07-31
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

by Intra_Galactic   2019-07-21

I'm not sure if this qualifies for what you're looking for, but I'll re-post my highlights from a few weeks ago in case it helps:

  • Exercise. “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“. Source:
  • Eat a healthy diet and follow some of the practices taken from Blue Zones, which are populations that have an unusually high number of centenarians. Some key take-aways from studies blue zones (Source:
    • Long-lived people live on a high-carb, low-fat, plant-based diet;
    • Long-lived people eat a lot of vegetables, including greens;
    • Whenever they can get it, long-lived populations eat a lot of fruit;
    • When animal products are consumed, it’s occasionally and in small amounts only;
    • Long-lived people had periods in their life when a lot less food was available and they had to survive on a very sparse, limited diet;
    • Long-lived people live in a sunny, warm climate;
    • Long-lived people consume beans in some form or another;
    • Nuts appear to be good for health;
    • The typical diet is very simple and many essentially eat the same simple foods every day
    • Quality food over variety is more important;
    • They had an active lifestyle and moved a lot
    • Many of them got 5 to 6 hours of moderate exercise per day;
    • Many of them loved to work and had a sense of purpose in life;
    • Many had large families;
    • None of them smoked or ate massive amounts of food.
  • Be a super-ager – “Which activities, if any, will increase your chances of remaining mentally sharp into old age? We’re still studying this question, but our best answer at the moment is: work hard at something. Many labs have observed that these critical brain regions increase in activity when people perform difficult tasks, whether the effort is physical or mental. You can therefore help keep these regions thick and healthy through vigorous exercise and bouts of strenuous mental effort.” Source:
  • Boost your microbiome by eating a diverse diet. “Diet is perhaps the biggest factor in shaping the composition of the microbiome,” he says. A study by University College Cork researchers published in Nature in 2012 followed 200 elderly people over the course of two years, as they transitioned into different environments such as nursing homes. The researchers found that their subjects’ health – frailty, cognition, and immune system – all correlated with their microbiome. From bacterial population alone, researchers could tell if a patient was a long-stay patient in a nursing home, or short-stay, or living in the general community. These changes were a direct reflection of their diet in these different environments. “A diverse diet gives you a diverse microbiome that gives you a better health outcome,” says Cryan. Source:
  • Have a healthy mind-set – don't ever succumb to the stereotypical mind set that getting older = decline. “To Langer, this was evidence that the biomedical model of the day — that the mind and the body are on separate tracks — was wrongheaded. The belief was that “the only way to get sick is through the introduction of a pathogen, and the only way to get well is to get rid of it,” she said, when we met at her office in Cambridge in December. She came to think that what people needed to heal themselves was a psychological “prime” — something that triggered the body to take curative measures all by itself. Gathering the older men together in New Hampshire, for what she would later refer to as a counterclockwise study, would be a way to test this premise. The men in the experimental group were told not merely to reminisce about this earlier era, but to inhabit it — to “make a psychological attempt to be the person they were 22 years ago,” she told me. “We have good reason to believe that if you are successful at this,” Langer told the men, “you will feel as you did in 1959.” From the time they walked through the doors, they were treated as if they were younger. The men were told that they would have to take their belongings upstairs themselves, even if they had to do it one shirt at a time. At the end of their stay, the men were tested again. On several measures, they outperformed a control group that came earlier to the monastery but didn’t imagine themselves back into the skin of their younger selves, though they were encouraged to reminisce. They were suppler, showed greater manual dexterity and sat taller — just as Langer had guessed. Perhaps most improbable, their sight improved. Independent judges said they looked younger. The experimental subjects, Langer told me, had “put their mind in an earlier time,” and their bodies went along for the ride.” Source:
  • Live a life that has meaning – or, in other words, have a personal mission statement in life. Strive to accomplish something or to help others. “It is the pursuit of meaning is what makes human beings uniquely human. By putting aside our selfish interests to serve someone or something larger than ourselves -- by devoting our lives to "giving" rather than "taking" -- we are not only expressing our fundamental humanity, but are also acknowledging that that there is more to the good life than the pursuit of simple happiness.” Source:
  • Volunteer and help others. “Volunteering probably reduces mortality by a year and a half or possibly up to two years for people who are in their senior years,” says Stephen G. Post, a professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University School of Medicine and the author of The Hidden Gifts of Helping and Why Good Things Happen to Good People. “If you could put the benefits of helping others into a bottle and sell it, you could be a millionaire in a minute.” Source:
  • Do strength training – there is an association between muscular strength and mortality in men (2008). Source:
  • This is also a great book: 'How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease' by Michael Greger: . You can find a summary of it here:
by Melete777   2019-07-21

Muscle tissue actually generates a lot of chemicals on its own, and a bunch of those chemicals are important for mood and sleep.

Great book on the subject:

by workingclassfinesser   2019-07-21

Yeah studies have shown exercise improves learning ability and retention. On my phone right now but just google it, it’s a big thing now.


by biciklanto   2019-07-21

With the caveat that I am also not a mental health professional and I can only speak from an anecdotal / personal reading level:

On another point related to depression, it also sounds like you were making choices that were exceedingly unhelpful to your mental state purely by being heavily invested in drugs and spending most of your time indoors. Your sleep schedule also likely suffered.

If you read things like John J. Ratey's Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain and particularly some of the research behind it, you see that exercise and time outdoors has a massive, massive effect on mental well-being. Not only are you in better shape, you're also mentally sharper, more resilient to stresses (with brain pathways for stress being literally down-regulated by aerobic exercise, meaning you physically don't even have as strong a reaction when something stressful happens), and there is growing research that several of the chemicals produced by your body during exercise (particularly Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor and IGF-1) literally grow your brain and can repair neuronal damage that comes from time.

Others have given good recommendations on how to handle this, but as someone who has spent some time living at home, trying to figure out what to do, here's my digital two cents: take some time to exercise every day. Install a fitness app and shoot for 6000+ (better, 10000+) steps outside every day. Go to the gym several times per week, and spend some time doing intense aerobic exercise to get your heart pumping. Find as regular a sleep schedule as you can, and eat healthy.

Mens sana in corpore sano and all of that. Take care of your body and your mind as well as you can, as that will help in every aspect of this process, both for your own mental health and for your acuity as you perform in job interviews and discussions with recruiters.

by dkersten   2017-10-21
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.


by guiambros   2017-08-19
Spark, by John J. Ratey, one of the pioneers of studying ADHD and the impact of exercise on the brain.

by guiambros   2017-08-19
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.