“Spark” by John Ratey

Early post of 2014; revised August 28, 2019

1. There is a good book, “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” by John J. Ratey (2013). It discusses new findings on the effects of regular exercise on the brain as well as the body. (Most of the books I review are likely to be available at public libraries).

2. The book discusses how exercise can keep the brain working at higher efficiency and lower stress and anxiety. Also, regular exercise can rid of addictions, and even Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD. It also talks about women’s hormonal changes and aging too.

3. The key is to engage in a moderate exercise program up to 6 days a week. And to ratchet it up to high-intensity once-in-a-while, even for a minute at a time. For example, if you jog, try to run fast for 30 seconds to 1 min once-in-awhile. That is called “interval running.”

  • The maximum heart rate for a person is 220-AGE.
  • low-intensity exercise: 55%-65% of max rate
  • moderate: 65%-75%
  • high intensity: 75%-90%

4. There are “wristwatch type” heart rate monitors available. But you basically “know” when you are at low intensity (walking), moderate (jogging/slow running), and high (dashing to catch a bus or running a 100-meter race).

  • Should not do high intensity unless you have been active for a while.
  • In the anaerobic range (high intensity), the brain releases human growth hormones (HGH). That is a natural way to “get high.”
  • Even low-intensity workouts release many other beneficial chemicals. But in high-intensity workouts, they all get a boost. All these are good for the sustenance/growth of neurons so that your memory can be improved.
  • But should not do high-intensity regularly unless one is in great shape.
  • He also mentions yoga as an enjoyable activity. Any exercise, i.e., just walking, is better than none.
  • He discusses how children in a school district in PA are avoiding obesity and health problems and getting good grades because the schools have good exercise programs.
  • I find that the best time to meditate is after a good workout and a shower. The body and the mind are refreshed and alert.

5. We are born with a body and a mind that are results of specific kamma vipāka in the past. But we are not bound by either; we can improve both. That does not mean we should try to “beautify” the body; we should make it healthy. The physical body is a “temporary shell” that will be with us for about 100 years, and if we do not take care of it, that will lead to much discomfort.

  • We can make conditions conducive to get “good kamma seeds” and to prevent “bad kamma seeds” from bearing fruits; see, “Annantara and Samanantara Paccaya.” Do not be discouraged by those Pāli words. The post is easy to understand.

6. Exercise and meditate! That is key to a long healthy life as well for “cooling down” in the sense of getting some long-lasting peace-of-mind or attaining one of the four stages of Nibbāna.

  • As we get old, it is imperative to keep both body and mind in good condition. It is hard to concentrate, let alone meditate, with an aching body or a defiled mind.
  • Walking a mile or two a day can keep one reasonably healthy. For the mind, solving word puzzles or reading a book is better than watching television.
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