Exercise—Life's Silver Bullet

John Ratey, MD, packs a small bag with sneakers and a change of clothes for a workout wherever he goes. And he’s doing quite a bit of going these days. Ratey is a Harvard University professor, clinical psychiatrist, public speaker and author. Oh, and he’s also the founder of a nationwide nonprofit called Sparking Life that wants to revamp school curriculum to include physical exercise.

“Exercise is really the silver bullet for optimal human function,” says Dr. Ratey. “It can improve your mood; lessen frustration and anxiety; help reduce stress; and improve cognitive ability and performance.”

Drop all your excuses. Ratey has most of us beat in the “I’m too busy” department. Despite his more-than-once-a-day physical activity philosophy, he says that humans aren’t hard-wired to exercise.

“There are no genes that promote us to exercise,” says Ratey. “We are really driven to NOT exercise.”

But that shouldn’t make us sedentary. In fact, Ratey says our genetic make-up is why we should work even harder to find time for exercise.

“Exercise provides the emotional quotient and intellectual quotient that we need to function,” says Ratey, who jokingly proposes that Americans adopt a “National Anti-Sitting Campaign” in order to get up and moving.

Ratey gained interest in exercise during medical school in the 1970s when antidepressants were being called “miracle drugs,” a term that he despises.

“It clicked in for me really early that exercise and mental health went together…but there is this pharmacologic idea of our society,” says Ratey. “Nobody gets into managing their own life.”

Working with patients who were avid runners helped Ratey to hone in on the benefits of exercise. He often saw many injured runners who had to give up the sport and consequently suffered depression and withdrawals similar to the symptoms of withdrawal due to drug addiction.

“You hear about runners and the endorphin rush,” says Ratey. “But that’s nowhere near the whole story.”

The story that Ratey explains starts when physical activity increases neurotransmitters in the brain. This spark causes the brain to work harder, and after exercise, the brain recovers and grows in response to the activity.

“Research has proven that physical activity can prevent cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s Disease, along with some other chronic diseases,” says Ratey.

After all his hard work in promoting exercise, Ratey says that this is the first year that he has felt encouraged despite statistical evidence that shows a decline in physical activity. He is seeing more schools willing to partner with his nonprofit to adopt physical education programs, and he has also seen sporting apparel companies change their messaging to address youth and kid activity.

“Everyone should enjoy motion and exercise,” says Ratey. “It’s a matter of common sense.”

Ratey’s message of how physical activity can positively transform the brain and body can be found in his book titled Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain or in the cyber world at www.sparkinglife.org. However, Ratey wouldn’t approve of finding a comfy couch cushion for long.

“I hope that people put it (my book) down and say that I never finished it because I had to go out and exercise,” he says.


435 South magazine is proud to be a sponsor for the consumer health symposium, “Your Health is in Your Hands” offered by Saint Luke’s Health System and Johnson County Community College (JCCC) from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28 in the JCCC Capital Federal Conference Center. John Ratey, MD, will present the keynote address, “Achieving Optimal Health at Any Age” which will focus on the daily changes individuals can make for a profound impact on the quality and longevity of their lives.

Other presentations on Sept. 28 will include:

• Making Smart Health Care Decisions

• Family Wellness

• Adult Children Caring for Elderly Parents

• Brain Fitness

• Value-Driven Health Care

• Battling High Blood Sugar and Obesity

• Advance Directives

Cost is $35 per person.

 The conference includes a continental breakfast and luncheon and will be held at JCCC, 12345 College Blvd., Overland Park, Kan. Program details, speaker profiles, information about Continuing Education Unit eligibility and fees and registration information is available at www.yourhealthkc.org or by calling (913) 469-2323.

Categories: Health & Wellness, Healthy Living