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Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Day 15 Exercise and the Brain

 Day 15 Exercise and the Brain

Have a goal ... being the best you can be for many years to come! Just Walk!

I was asked to write a review of a book that I love that has a message of hope for us all. This is a longer blog than I usually write but I want to recommend that everyone read Spark by Dr. John Ratey.  This book will give you the reason to Walk30 every day! Walk On Strong ... Sue

Over the past ten years I have had a growing passion for understanding the brain. I wanted to know more about how and if it has the capacity to repair damage that is associated with stress, anxiety and other forms of mental illness. This search for answers has grown from our family’s experience with mental illness and the need to find answers and hope in the progress that has been made in the area of neuroscience.

I did not have to search too far to find a book that had answers to my questions and a bountiful measure of the hope I was looking for.  The book is Spark and the author John Ratey is a clinical associate professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Ratey puts together the cutting edge science that has developed over the past 10 to 15 years that demonstrates how exercise can repair the brain. In his own words:
“I’ll explain the science of how exercise cues the building blocks of learning in the brain; how it affects mood, anxiety and attention: how it guards against stress and reverses some of the effects of aging in the brain.”

“ I want to cement the idea that exercise has a profound impact on cognitive abilities and mental health. It is simply one of the best treatments we have for most psychiatric problems.”

Ratey outlines the undeniable consequences that accompany the presence of mental health stressors. There is damage to the brain and resulting cognitive impairment that is suffered by anyone who experiences ongoing mental or emotional stress. Toxic levels of stress limit the connections between the billions of nerve cells in the brain and chronic stress shrinks certain areas of the brain. One of the areas most affected is the limbic system which is often referred to as the ‘emotional brain’.

The World Health Organization warns us that “Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States and Canada, ahead of coronary heart disease, any given cancer and Aids.” 
We also know that the economic burden of mental illness and addiction in Canada is estimated at $51 billion annually. (CAMH)  We understand that there is a problem and that we, as a society, experience more demands on our time and increased levels of stress and that ongoing generalized stress can lead to anxiety and depression.

In his book Spark John Ratey brings us an answer and hope in the form of exercise.  “In a way, exercise can be thought of as a psychiatrist’s dream treatment. It works on anxiety, on panic disorder, and on stress in general, which has a lot to do with depression. And it generates the release of neurotransmitters—norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine—that are very similar to our most important psychiatric medicines. Having a bout of exercise is like taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin, right where it is supposed to go.”

In each chapter Ratey delves into the various areas of mental health stressors that effect us throughout our lives and how exercise can be the answer to preventing or alleviating damage to the brain. He looks at intellectual productivity, stress, addiction, hormonal changes, aging and more,  exploring how all of these life experiences can be positively impacted through exercise.

Ratey outlines a Build Your Brain exercise regime in the final chapter of the book that will give the
reader a clear road map to follow toward increased mental health.

Ratey brings clarity to the research behind our understanding of how our brains function and recover, not only from serious mental illness but also the stress that we all face on a day to day basis. I struck gold when I found this book, it has given me the tools and the hope that I was looking for but above all it is a call to action. Once you know what exercise can do for you and your loved ones it is up to you to move!

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