Book Review: ‘Spark The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain’

Now that September is here, we here at Springboard Clinic have caught the back-to-school vibe – everything is quickly getting back on schedule, we’re reorganizing our offices, and most importantly, we’ve been catching up on our reading. With all the new books out there, it got us thinking: we’ve all read so many great ADHD books over the years, why not do some book reviews for you?

This week we are introducing ‘Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain’, by John J. Ratey, MD. This book isn’t exclusive to ADHD, but it’s a fascinating read about the effects of exercise on the brain. Using compelling case studies and a ton of new research, Spark essentially re-frames exercise as something that builds and conditions the brain, not just your biceps. Throughout this book, you learn about how exercise has a positive influence on memory, concentration, learning, and classroom behaviour, as well as symptoms of depression, anxiety, and ADHD.

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Now, trying to summarize the abundance of findings wouldn’t do it justice, so we won’t even attempt it. Instead, enjoy these tidbits of interest:

Exercise…

      •  …not only primes your state of mind, but influences learning directly by helping strengthen the connections in your brain and by helping develop new nerve cells.

      • …is a mild form of stress – enough that it raises your body’s threshold for stress, but not enough that it ‘floods’ your system and has a negative impact on you.

      • …reduces muscle tension, which in turn sends a signal to your brain that it is safe to relax (many ADHDers have a hard time relaxing!).

      • …builds brain resources and improves resilience.

      • …increases the level of dopamine in the body – this plays a role in stimulating the ‘reward center’ of the brain, which is found to be imbalanced in ADHD individuals.

      • …helps stimulate the part of the brain that regulates hair-trigger responses and evens out reactions to new stimuli.

You can see from these facts alone how incredibly beneficial exercise may be to an ADHD individual, let alone anyone with a beating heart. How can you lose with something that does so much to put you at the top of your game? Exercise is something that we have consistently recommended to help treat ADHD, and this book just helps confirm our convictions.

In fact, our clients are always telling us about how exercise has helped improve symptoms in themselves or in their children. As an example, just today a mother told us about her son who was working with a tutor and having a lot of difficulty focusing and sitting still. The mom decided to start going for a quick run with her son before his tutoring sessions. Amazingly, without even knowing about this new exercise strategy, the tutor started noticing improvements right away and it completely changed the dynamic of their sessions. The great thing about a story like this is that it isn’t the exception – we hear similar anecdotes all the time. We even heard not too long ago about a client who used to run behind his parent’s car on the way to school every morning as a way to better engage in class during the day. Probably not appealing to all teenagers but for that client it worked!

We could go on about exercise and ADHD all day but the best thing to do is try it for yourself. “Exercise” doesn’t have to be a 3 hour trip to the gym – even a 20 minute walk/jog can make a difference!

Click here to read more about ‘Spark’ and stay tuned for next week when we offer you another book report.

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