Book Review: Spark

The audiobook reviewed here is ‘Spark’ by John Ratey and narrated by Walter Dixon. The narrator speaks clearly and in such a relaxed manner and with such apparent familiarity with the subject material that I had thought throughout most of the audiobook that it was the author narrating. I found this to be an uplifting book which promotes the benefits of exercise with reference to the evidence base. Ratey provides a convincing argument for bringing exercise into the treatment of different mental illnesses. The conditions he covers include depression, anxiety, dementia, ADHD, alcohol and substance misuse. Throughout the book he not only references the research literature but also illustrates his core arguments with case studies. While there is sufficient detail for this to be useful for health practitioners, I thought this book would particularly appeal to the public as Ratey is able to convey the essence of the science in a simple, accessible manner. He invokes references to neurotransmitters including serotonin, dopamine and opioids  as well as the importance of the Nucleus Accumbens and the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis. I was interested to learn that blood flow to the prefrontal cortex is apparently reduced during exercise (from an evolutionary perspective the opposite may have been expected – if hunting has played an important role in our recent evolution then we might expect movement to be associated with the use of executive/prefrontal cortical functions as prey is hunted). What I also found interesting was Ratey’s speculation that the benefits of exercise and of vegetables in the diet may be the induction of a stress response leading to cellular resilience. Ratey also talks about exercise as a brain building activity and he refers to the use of an innovative exercise program used in a school in Naperville, Illinois and associated with improved fitness levels and speculatively also with significantly improved academic results when compared to schools nationally in the USA. Ratey has taken on an ambitious task by covering a wide range of mental illnesses and specific situations where exercise may lead to improved outcomes. Conveying this is no easy task and to do so in a very interesting and persuasive manner is all the more impressive. No doubt, further studies will be undertaken to examine the relationship between exercise, the brain and mental illness. However Ratey’s book leads to inexorably to the consideration of how exercise programs could be used in mental health services.


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The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog

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