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Spark: The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain Book by Dr John J Ratey

In the book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and The Brain by Dr. John J. Ratey, MD (2008), Ratey discuses how exercise can help treat many mood disorders and how it can help strengthen our brains. This book is divided into ten chapters all with five to ten subsections in them. The chapters include: Welcome to the revolution: A Case Study on Exercise and the brain, Learning, Stress, Anxiety, Depression, Attention Deficit, Addiction, Hormonal Changers, Aging, and the Regimen.

The book begins by explaining how important exercise and being active is to our health and well-being. The author then transitions into a story about Naperville Central High School. This high school was in the forefront of a revolutionary new concept that involved vigorous exercise of its students instead of a traditional gym class. This new approach stimulated new research on the brain, and the effects of exercise on the well being of our body and minds. After the introduction of the new fitness programs, the school’s students showed drastic increases in standardized tests, and on normal tests as well.

Early in the book a gym teacher, pioneering the new 'zero hour pe class' a course that has students opt for PE class frist thing in the morning before the typical school day begins. this is a class that focusses on a rather simple task: running a mile and tracking the heart rate through a device.


Exercise has been shown to have many benefits for both physical and mental health. In the case of students, research has shown that those who exercise before studying consistently outperform their non-active counterparts in terms of academic performance. This is thought to be due, in part, to the release of a protein called brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) during exercise, which supports the growth and development of brain cells and can enhance learning and creativity. Exercise has also been shown to improve cognitive function in adults, including increasing the ability to recall new information and generating more creative solutions to problems. The exact amount of exercise needed to produce these mental benefits is not clear, but moderate intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes a day is generally recommended for overall health and well-being.


Want more on the book? Slideshare book review


One Small Change Turned These 19,000 Students Into the Fittest and Smartest in the US

Alan Freishtat August 9, 2012

Did you ever hear of Naperville, Illinois? Well, did you ever hear of the school that created the fittest students in the nation? How about some of the smartest in the world?

Naperville is a town near Chicago and the subject of a fascinating experiment written about by psychiatrist Dr. John Ratey in his groundbreaking book, Spark. Most high schools in the United States have the standard physical education classes consisting of competitive sports such as football, basketball, track and field and some basic calisthenics. Some students excel at sports, others just get by and many can’t wait until the end of the period.

The gym teachers at Naperville conducted an educational experiment called Zero Hour P.E. where they scheduled time to work out before class using treadmills and other exercise equipment where you are only competing against yourself to improve. This program not only turned their 19,000 students into the fittest in the nation but also, in some categories, the smartest in the world.

Academically, Naperville High School is currently in the top 10 in the state–despite the fact that they spend less money per pupil than other high schools in their district.

The students at Naperville took the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) given around the world. The United States has done notoriously poorly on this test. Whereas in Asian countries nearly half of the students score in the top tier, only 7 percent of U.S. students hit that mark.

In Naperville, 97 percent of the 8th graders took the test. On the science section, they finished just ahead of Singapore, number one in the world. And on the math section, they were number six in the world. All this because of their innovative exercise program.

A fascinating study, but let’s take this one step further. In my almost 18 years of being a personal trainer, I have trained the span of learning men: young, old and even some Roshei Yeshiva (heads of Talmudic academies) as well. The vast majority of them experienced relief from physiological problems, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and low back pain. That was expected.

But even before any of the physical benefits became evident, about two weeks into their programs I started getting feedback like, “I can’t believe how much better I can concentrate in the Beit Medrash (study hall)!” or “I am able to stay awake and alert when learning with my late-night chavruta (study partner)!” and “I can even concentrate when I come home after a long day of learning and I still need to learn with my children!”

There is almost no brain function that exercise doesn’t affect in a positive way. Whether we are talking about mood or learning, exercise is a big part of the equation. Even in people with ADD and ADHD, exercise helps them concentrate better and learn better–particularly exercise that involves structured movement like martial arts.

Dr. Ratey states:

Exercise increases the concentration of both dopamine and norepinephrine, as well as other brain chemicals. I have always said that a dose of exercise is like taking a bit of Ritalin or Adderall. It’s similar to taking a stimulant. Second, over time, exercise helps build up the machinery to increase the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain as well as their postsynaptic receptors. Chronic exercise eventually causes growth of the system. The more fit that you are, the better the system works.

The bottom line is that there is an increased ability to absorb knowledge and to learn things, something especially near and dear to the Torah world.

If you are having difficulties learning or concentrating, there are many possible causes: lack of sleep, proper diet and hydration to name a few. But have you tried a comprehensive exercise program? Aerobic exercise, like brisk walking, running, biking or swimming might just do the trick. Add a couple of days a week of muscle-building exercises to round out your program. (Try starting with pushups and sit-ups.)

Doing this in the middle of the day provides an extra benefit: a break. Taking some time off will enable you to learn better throughout the day. Work your way up slowly and carefully with increasing intensity for maximum benefit.

Ben Zoma says, “Who is wise? One who learns from everyone” (Pirkei Avot [Ethics of our Fathers], Chapter 4, Mishna 1). So let’s learn something from Naperville. Embarking on a serious exercise program not only improves your health and well-being, but your comprehension and ability to learn as well. It certainly is a worthwhile investment for both your body and your neshama, your soul.


More about Learning Readiness P.E.

Naperville Central High School appears to be an average public high school in an uppermiddle class community; however, the school’s physical education program is not so average. Since 1992, Naperville Central has been utilizing heart rate monitors during P.E. in order to ensure students are working in their targeted heart rate zones and maximizing the benefits of P.E. Since then, major strides have been made by the school and district with the ultimate goal of running a P.E. program that truly benefits their students’ overall health, wellness, and learning readiness. In 2003, Naperville Central determined that some of their students were not performing at grade level because of poor reading skills. The school formed an academic reading class for these students and created a before-school or zero hour P.E. class so that students taking the elective reading class could still participate in P.E., as mandated by the state of Illinois. This became Learning Readiness P.E. (LRPE), a class designed based on research that indicated students who were physically active and fit were more academically alert. Paul Zientarski, who was the first LRPE Coordinator at the school, saw this zero hour as an opportunity to test whether or not physical activity could have an impact on the academic performance of his students. Thus began his school’s journey towards enhanced P.E.

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Exercise Seen as Priming Pump for Students’ Academic Strides Case grows stronger for physical activity's link to improved brain function. By Debra Viadero

At 7:45 a.m. each weekday, while most of his peers at Naperville Central High School in Naperville, Ill., are sitting in class and groggy with sleep, 15-year-old Matt Bray is running sprints, jumping rope, lifting weights, and engaging in other activities, all aimed at getting his heart pumping. This early-morning exercise class is about more than getting in shape, though. A small but growing number of experts and educators suggest that Mr. Bray is priming his brain for learning at the same time he’s sculpting his biceps. “It’s been actually raising my grades a little bit higher,” Mr. Bray, a freshman, said of the class, which he has been taking since September. “Now I’m getting A’s and B’s on average,” he said. “In junior high, I was getting B’s and C’s.” Seven or eight years ago, studies offered mixed results on the question of whether exercise can boost brain function in children and adolescents. Experts are beginning to contend, however, that the case is getting stronger. “There’s sort of no question about it now,” said Dr. John J. Ratey, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “The exercise itself doesn’t make you smarter, but it puts the brain of the learners in the optimal position for them to learn.”

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Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, episode #121 with the former PE teacher from Naperville, IL, Paul Zientarski. Hello and Welcome back! I’m Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with learning the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports and the workplace, for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast for some time, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with putting our brain health first. We’ve mentioned that exercise is one of the top 5 health staples that’s a known brain-health and Alzheimer’s prevention strategy, from our episode #87 helping us to take our results, productivity and health to these higher levels. Ever since I came across John J Ratey’s book Spark , I have been drawn in, wanting to learn more, so that I can share his research you, with the hope that something he has uncovered, inspires you, like it inspired me, and that together, we make improvements, even small ones, in our lives, that lean us closer towards the health and wellness that we need these days. #neuroscience#academics


Ted Talk: The Brain Changing benefits of exercise

ChatGPT Summary (via tool)

Exercise has a number of positive effects on the brain. It can have an immediate impact on mood and focus and can also have long-lasting and protective effects on the brain. Physical activity can help to improve decision-making, focus, attention, and personality, as well as enhance the ability to form and retain new long-term memories. Exercise can also have a positive impact on mental health conditions such as depression and can help to protect against conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia. The brain changes that occur with exercise may be related to the production of certain chemicals, such as endorphins, and to changes in the structure and function of brain cells. It is important to incorporate regular physical activity into one's daily routine in order to reap the cognitive and mental health benefits of exercise.

Full Transcript:

# Wendy Suzuki: The brain-changing benefits of exercise | TED - YouTube


## Transcript:

- ([00:13]( What if I told you there was something that you can do right now that would have an immediate, positive benefit for your brain including your mood and your focus? And what if I told you that same thing could actually last a long time and protect your brain from different conditions like depression, Alzheimer's disease or dementia.

- ([00:36]( Would you do it? Yes! I am talking about the powerful effects of physical activity. Simply moving your body, has immediate, long-lasting and protective benefits for your brain. And that can last for the rest of your life. So what I want to do today is tell you a story about how I used my deep understanding of neuroscience, as a professor of neuroscience, to essentially do an experiment on myself in which I discovered the science underlying why exercise is the most transformative thing that you can do for your brain today.

- ([01:15]( Now, as a neuroscientist, I know that our brains, that is the thing in our head right now, that is the most complex structure known to humankind. But it's one thing to talk about the brain, and it's another to see it. So here is a real preserved human brain. And it's going to illustrate two key areas that we are going to talk about today.

- ([01:39]( The first is the prefrontal cortex, right behind your forehead, critical for things like decision-making, focus, attention and your personality. The second key area is located in the temporal lobe, shown right here. You have two temporal lobes in your brain, the right and the left, and deep in the temporal lobe is a key structure critical for your ability to form and retain new long-term memories for facts and events.

- ([02:06]( And that structure is called the hippocampus. So I've always been fascinated with the hippocampus. How could it be that an event that lasts just a moment, say, your first kiss, or the moment your first child was born, can form a memory that has changed your brain, that lasts an entire lifetime? That's what I want to understand.

- ([02:31]( I wanted to start and record the activity of individual brain cells in the hippocampus as subjects were forming new memories. And essentially try and decode how those brief bursts of electrical activity, which is how neurons communicate with each other, how those brief bursts either allowed us to form a new memory, or did not.

- ([02:53]( But a few years ago, I did something very unusual in science. As a full professor of neural science, I decided to completely switch my research program. Because I encountered something that was so amazing, with the potential to change so many lives that I had to study it. I discovered and I experienced the brain-changing effects of exercise.

- ([03:18]( And I did it in a completely inadvertent way. I was actually at the height of all the memory work that I was doing -- data was pouring in, I was becoming known in my field for all of this memory work. And it should have been going great. It was, scientifically. But when I stuck my head out of my lab door, I noticed something.

- ([03:42]( I had no social life. I spent too much time listening to those brain cells in a dark room, by myself. (Laughter) I didn't move my body at all. I had gained 25 pounds. And actually, it took me many years to realize it, I was actually miserable. And I shouldn't be miserable. And I went on a river-rafting trip -- by myself, because I had no social life.

- ([04:05]( And I came back -- (Laughter) thinking, "Oh, my God, I was the weakest person on that trip." And I came back with a mission. I said, "I'm never going to feel like the weakest person on a river-rafting trip again." And that's what made me go to the gym. And I focused my type-A personality on going to all the exercise classes at the gym.

- ([04:25]( I tried everything. I went to kickbox, dance, yoga, step class, and at first it was really hard. But what I noticed is that after every sweat-inducing workout that I tried, I had this great mood boost and this great energy boost. And that's what kept me going back to the gym. Well, I started feeling stronger.

- ([04:47]( I started feeling better, I even lost that 25 pounds. And now, fast-forward a year and a half into this regular exercise program and I noticed something that really made me sit up and take notice. I was sitting at my desk, writing a research grant, and a thought went through my mind that had never gone through my mind before.

- ([05:08]( And that thought was, "Gee, grant-writing is going well today." And all the scientists -- (Laughter) yeah, all the scientists always laugh when I say that, because grant-writing never goes well. It is so hard; you're always pulling your hair out, trying to come up with that million-dollar-winning idea.

- ([05:26]( But I realized that the grant-writing was going well, because I was able to focus and maintain my attention for longer than I had before. And my long-term memory -- what I was studying in my own lab -- seemed to be better in me. And that's when I put it together. Maybe all that exercise that I had included and added to my life was changing my brain.

- ([05:52]( Maybe I did an experiment on myself without even knowing it. So as a curious neuroscientist, I went to the literature to see what I could find about what we knew about the effects of exercise on the brain. And what I found was an exciting and a growing literature that was essentially showing everything that I noticed in myself.

- ([06:11]( Better mood, better energy, better memory, better attention. And the more I learned, the more I realized how powerful exercise was. Which eventually led me to the big decision to completely shift my research focus. And so now, after several years of really focusing on this question, I've come to the following conclusion: that exercise is the most transformative thing that you can do for your brain today for the following three reasons.

- ([06:44]( Number one: it has immediate effects on your brain. A single workout that you do will immediately increase levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline. That is going to increase your mood right after that workout, exactly what I was feeling. My lab showed that a single workout can improve your ability to shift and focus attention, and that focus improvement will last for at least two hours.

- ([07:12]( And finally, studies have shown that a single workout will improve your reaction times which basically means that you are going to be faster at catching that cup of Starbucks that falls off the counter, which is very, very important. (Laughter) But these immediate effects are transient, they help you right after.

- ([07:31]( What you have to do is do what I did, that is change your exercise regime, increase your cardiorespiratory function, to get the long-lasting effects. And these effects are long-lasting because exercise actually changes the brain's anatomy, physiology and function. Let's start with my favorite brain area, the hippocampus.

- ([07:52]( The hippocampus -- or exercise actually produces brand new brain cells, new brain cells in the hippocampus, that actually increase its volume, as well as improve your long-term memory, OK? And that including in you and me. Number two: the most common finding in neuroscience studies, looking at effects of long-term exercise, is improved attention function dependent on your prefrontal cortex.

- ([08:21]( You not only get better focus and attention, but the volume of the hippocampus increases as well. And finally, you not only get immediate effects of mood with exercise but those last for a long time. So you get long-lasting increases in those good mood neurotransmitters. But really, the most transformative thing that exercise will do is its protective effects on your brain.

- ([08:48]( Here you can think about the brain like a muscle. The more you're working out, the bigger and stronger your hippocampus and prefrontal cortex gets. Why is that important? Because the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus are the two areas that are most susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases and normal cognitive decline in aging.

- ([09:11]( So with increased exercise over your lifetime, you're not going to cure dementia or Alzheimer's disease, but what you're going to do is you're going to create the strongest, biggest hippocampus and prefrontal cortex so it takes longer for these diseases to actually have an effect. You can think of exercise, therefore, as a supercharged 401K for your brain, OK? And it's even better, because it's free.

- ([09:40]( So this is the point in the talk where everybody says, "That sounds so interesting, Wendy, but I really will only want to know one thing. And that is, just tell me the minimum amount of exercise I need to get all these changes." (Laughter) And so I'm going to tell you the answer to that question.

- ([09:57]( First, good news: you don't have to become a triathlete to get these effects. The rule of thumb is you want to get three to four times a week exercise minimum 30 minutes an exercise session, and you want to get aerobic exercise in. That is, get your heart rate up. And the good news is, you don't have to go to the gym to get a very expensive gym membership.

- ([10:19]( Add an extra walk around the block in your power walk. You see stairs -- take stairs. And power-vacuuming can be as good as the aerobics class that you were going to take at the gym. So I've gone from memory pioneer to exercise explorer. From going into the innermost workings of the brain, to trying to understand how exercise can improve our brain function, and my goal in my lab right now is to go beyond that rule of thumb that I just gave you -- three to four times a week, 30 minutes.

- ([10:54]( I want to understand the optimum exercise prescription for you, at your age, at your fitness level, for your genetic background, to maximize the effects of exercise today and also to improve your brain and protect your brain the best for the rest of your life. But it's one thing to talk about exercise, and it's another to do it.

- ([11:20]( So I'm going to invoke my power as a certified exercise instructor, to ask you all to stand up. (Laughter) We're going to do just one minute of exercise. It's call-and-response, just do what I do, say what I say, and make sure you don't punch your neighbor, OK? Music! (Upbeat music) Five, six, seven, eight, it's right, left, right, left.

- ([11:43]( And I say, I am strong now. Let's hear you. Audience: I am strong now. Wendy Suzuki: Ladies, I am Wonder Woman-strong. Let's hear you! Audience: I am Wonder Woman-strong. WS: New move -- uppercut, right and left. I am inspired now. You say it! Audience: I am inspired now. WS: Last move -- pull it down, right and left, right and left.

- ([12:14]( I say, I am on fire now! You say it. Audience: I am on fire now. WS: And done! OK, good job! (Applause) Thank you. I want to leave you with one last thought. And that is, bringing exercise in your life will not only give you a happier, more protective life today, but it will protect your brain from incurable diseases.

- ([12:48]( And in this way it will change the trajectory of your life for the better. Thank you very much. (Applause) Thank you. (Applause)


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