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Kathleen Fackelmann of USA Today had a conversation with John Ratey, author of “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.”
Ratey’s book suggests that in addition to burning fat, exercise can make the brain function better — and might combat depression and anxiety.
A fast-paced workout boosts the production of “brain-derived neurotrophic factor,” a protein Ratey calls Miracle-Gro for the brain. Physical activity is the best way to release this brain nourishment.
Workouts and walks build better connections between brain cells, and studies show that regular physical activity may increase production of cells in the hippocampus — the region of the brain involved in learning and memory.
Ratey says that regular workouts could be said to make people smarter — he points to the Naperville school district in Illinois. In 1990, physical education teacher Phil Lawler launched a fitness revolution.
“He had the kids run a mile every single week. He also handed out grades for PE based on effort and not skill. The kids at Naperville not only got stronger, but they also started to do really well on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study [a test designed to compare how well kids from different coutnries do in these areas].
“In recent years, kids in China, Japan and Singapore have outperformed American kids, but in 1999 the Naperville kids scored sixth in math and first in the world for science. That really grabbed me.”
In addition to improving brain function, Ratey makes the case that exercise alleviates stress, wards off anxiety and — regarding addiction — a workout helps redirect the brain away from the substance of abuse and fights of the impulse to reach for it.
Asked if exercise can help people with ADD to focus and concentrate, he said absolutely. Some people time their workouts to help concentration later in the day.
And regarding the aging brain, Ratey says that researchers in the 90s discovered that exercise was a way to prevent cognitive decline and delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.
“We now have tons of studies that show regular physical activity can prevent the age-related brain fogginess that often develops by age 65.” He recommends seniors work out five or six days a week.
sole source: Kathleen Fackelmann interview with John Ratey in USA Today (online) on 2/19/08. www.usatoday.com Ratey’s book “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain,” published by Little, Brown, is listed at $24.99. ISBN 13:9780316113502
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