What We're Into: "Spark" and the Science of Being Active

Photo by Daniel Dionne via Flickr

I’ve never been a big exerciser. I go through my phases, but overall it’s been tough for me to develop good habits when it comes to keeping in shape. It’s hard for me to find the motivation to do repetitive tasks that make me sweat and tire me out, especially because I often feel like I have to turn off my brain while doing so, just to get through it. 

Our team is in the midst of discussing curriculum for upcoming Connect the Grey programming, so I’ve been going back through some archives of resources that have motivated me in different areas of my life throughout the years. The other day, I came across a book that I read awhile back, called “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.” I remember reading this book during a phase in my life when I was struggling with anxiety and depression, unable to convince myself to do much of anything, much less whip out a pair of sneakers and go for a run. 

One thing I WAS doing a lot of was reading and taking in new information, a habit I formed during this period to keep my brain distracted and calm when I was stressed out. I also knew that I wanted to find ways to be more active, so my father recommended "Spark" to me as a source of inspiration. 

The basic idea behind "Spark" is that exercise goes beyond just getting us fit; it helps our brains function, and improves our cognitive abilities and mental health. The book is full of studies done in offices and schools across the country, citing how work and learning performance were positively affected by participants simply getting their heart rate up before heading to class, or going into an important meeting. 

I could cite a bunch of numbers and statistics, but that’s not my jam. Instead, while I was reading the book, what stuck with me was the bigger picture: exercise your body, and your brain will follow. Getting in shape and looking better are motivators for many, but for me, it was about the stuff going on inside my noggin. I realized that if I wanted to stay sharp and keep expanding my knowledge base about the various topics I was becoming more passionate about during my 20s (photography, environmentalism, and food issues, to name a few), it would behoove me to prep my brain to take in and retain the information by moving around a little instead of sitting slumped on the couch, reading article after article on my computer. I even started reading "Spark" on the treadmill.

I’m especially excited about rediscovering this book because the theme for our June Explorations events is being active — we’re doing a biking event in Minneapolis, and going kayaking in Mankato, all in a celebration of getting out of our comfort zones and discussing the importance of being active in our daily lives. I'm hoping that our events can be a reminder that you don't have to go to the gym to get a good workout, and you don't have to be incredibly skilled at an activity to benefit from it. A little bit of moving your body is all it takes to spark your brain cells.