Book Review: Spark by John J. Ratey, MD

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Table of Contents


  • Title: Spark
  • Sub-title: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain
  • Also on cover: Supercharge your mental circuits to beat stress, sharpen your thinking, lift your mood, boost your memory, and much more
  • Author: John J. Ratey, MD with Eric Hagerman
  • Pages: 304
  • Published: 2008
  • Link to Book

High-Level Summary

The following is a book review on Spark by John J. Ratey, MD.

Spark dives deeply into the transformative effects of exercise on the brain. John J. Ratey does a great job of explaining the effects of exercise on the mind-body connection and presenting the science and research behind it.

For someone who didn’t study neuroscience, I had an easy job comprehending everything the book explained. This is a testament to the author’s writing.

Some of the topics discussed in the book include exercise and its effects on…

  • learning
  • stress
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • attention deficit
  • addiction
  • hormonal changes
  • aging

The book was extremely insightful and will make you never want to skip a morning workout ever again. A choice to not exercise is a choice to not perform your best or feel your best.

This blog is about professional and personal development and the information presented in this book will help your mind and body perform optimally to be the best version of yourself.



I highly recommend this book to anyone at all ages. The effects and potential benefits to any reader are too profound not to share. The ideas presented in this book could help people in numerous ways and have an impact across all areas of someone’s life.

Top 10 Takeaways

* In no particular order

1. Exercise has a profound impact on cognitive abilities and mental health. It is one of best treatments we have for most psychiatric problems.

2. The brain responds like muscles do, growing with use, withering away with inactivity.

3. Exercise primes our state of mind and influences the brain on a cellular level by improving the brain’s potential to log and store information.

4. Exercises releases neurotransmitters and factors from the muscles that build new capillaries in the brain and encourage synaptic plasticity.

5. A little bit of stress to the cells and the body can be good, as it prepares them and makes them stronger/more resilient for future challenges.

6. Stress has a major negative impact on memory and can make learning harder.

7. Exercise can help reduce the symptoms of anxiety, depression, ADHD, and hormonal changes.

8. A strategy to use if you have attention deficit and take medication is to work out in the morning and take your medication about 60 to 90 minutes later when the focus effects of exercise wear off.

9. Older individuals that had higher levels of energy expenditure showed lower levels of cognitive decline. Exercise helps minimize the rate of natural cognitive decline.

10. High-intensity training toughens you up mentally and physiologically.

What I Liked

This book was filled with things I liked.

Easy to read

First off, the book is easy to read and understand. The author did a great job of presenting complex neuroscience into digestible chapters. Every claim was backed by research and case studies, which made everything more convincing as a reader.

New and unique concepts to me

Prior to this book, I knew that exercise was beneficial to energy levels, mood, and overall health. This book went deeper into what surface-level knowledge I had before. The book not only explains what the effects of exercise are, but explained why the effects work the way they do.

Brand new material to me included the effects of exercise on anxiety, depression, attention deficit, addiction, and hormonal changes. It was truly eye-opening.


In addition to being able to read and understand the book, the author maintained a level of humor throughout the book that kept me entertained and engaged.

Packed with info

The book was filled with such moving information that I found myself highlighting a large portion of the book. A great thing about everything written is that anyone could reap the benefits of exercise immediately.

Immediately attainable benefits

Aerobic exercise was mentioned most frequently in this book as the main recommended form of exercise.

To receive the benefits of aerobic exercise, it doesn’t cost anything or take any equipment. You can simply go on a run and/or do some bodyweight exercises to get your heart rate up.

A reader can read the material in the book and go out and implement the tips immediately if they wanted to.

Impactful stories and case studies

The real-life stories and case studies used as examples to show the effects of exercise were impressive. These individuals were going through problems that a majority of people probably deal with every day.

Reading about the results they had through exercise was inspiring.

One example to share involves a woman who was dealing with an alcohol addition. She has been able to manage it through exercise. Whenever she has a craving, she jumps rope and that act is enough to curb her addiction.

Benefits for Your Life and Career

The things learned from this book will have a direct impact on your life and your career.

By exercising, you’ll optimize your mind and body to take on every day as the best version of yourself. This includes the time you are at school, at work or out living your life.

Let’s break down the potential benefits in those 3 areas:


  • Exercising in the morning will prime your brain for the day
  • The circuitry and communication of information in your brain will be more efficient
  • Learning and memory will improve
  • You’ll go into classes feeling alert and uplifted
  • The discipline of exercise and motivation you feel from overcoming an exercise can also motivate you for your school work


  • You’ll arrive to work awake and hitting the ground with your feet running
  • Stress and anxiety caused from work can be decreased through exercise
  • Depression caused by work can also be decreased
  • For women, hormonal changes can be stabilized through exercise, allowing you to work with a minimized effect from hormones
  • The neurotransmitters and chemicals released through exercise will give you a boost in motivation and morale
  • Exercising will give you confidence and that confidence will benefit you in the office to be more assertive and make a greater impact


  • You’ll live life more happily and invigorated with the benefits of exercise on depression
  • Anxiety that you feel during the day can be reduced
  • Hormonal changes are a part of life, but can be stabilized through exercise
  • Your mind will be more energized and primed to learn if you want to pick up a side hustle or want to learn a new hobby
  • Aging is inevitable, but you can keep your mind young and reduce the rate of cognitive decline that comes with age
  • The neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity will benefit all areas in your life
  • If you struggle with an addiction, exercises can be an additional help in overcoming it. The effects of exercise itself will help you fight addiction. Additionally, using exercise to fill your time will keep your mind off of succumbing to your addiction

10 Actions You Should Take

1. Obviously exercising will be one of the actions you should take. However, rather than just prescribing exercise, I would recommend you exercise by beginning with small steps. If you don’t currently exercise, begin by taking a walk. If all you do is weight lift, try to do sprints.

2. Get your blood flowing as part of your morning routine. If you don’t have the time to get a full workout in, commit to just 5-10 minutes of intense exercise to get your heart rate up. Jumping rope is great for this.

3. Whenever you are stressed, go take a walk or go on a jog.

4. If you are fighting an addiction or a craving, try exercising when the craving comes about, even if it’s something as quick as 20 pushups.

5. If you are depressed and unmotivated in the morning, get a hard workout in to uplift you and wake you up for the rest of the day.

6. If you drink coffee or tea for the caffeine, try consuming it an hour after your workout. If the effects of focus and wakefulness from a workout last 60 to 90 minutes, you can time the consumption of your caffeine so it hits at the end of that time following a workout.

7. Look up and think of ways to to put slight stress on yourself to build resilience. An example from the book is putting mild stress on your cells through a restrictive diet.

8. For the average person not used to exercise, one routine is to attempt to follow our ancestors’ movements. Walk or jog every day, run a few times a week, and sprint every now and then.

9. For seasoned folk, mix up your exercise as well, but include high-intensity training more frequently to naturally produce HGH, testosterone, and BDNF.

10. In addition to challenging your body with physical exercise, challenge the mind with mental exercise. And always keep learning.


Spark is all about the transformative effects of exercise on the brain. The information in the book can be applied to all area’s of one’s life and anyone can begin reaping the benefits by going out and breaking a sweat.

The book is easy to read and entertaining, which makes the 304 pages fly by.

I highly recommend this book the readers of this blog because I believe the topics are relevant to individuals looking to improve their career and overall life.

Spark can be found on Amazon at this link here if you are interested in reading.

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There may be affiliate links on this page, which means I may receive a small commission for any purchases made through links in this post. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Products that are linked are ones I highly recommend and have used/tested myself.