Author: Wendy Suzuki, PhD

Publisher: Harper Collins

ISBN: 978-0-06-236679-5

As I am a regular visitor to my local YMCA where I exercise for forty-five minutes five times a week, I often wondered why I and others tout how energized we feel after our exercise routines. I understand how exercise affects the body as it builds up stamina and muscles, but what is the connection between exercise and the brain?

When I was asked to review Wendy Suzki's Healthy Brain, Happy Life, I jumped at the opportunity to finally find out what is going on with my brain when I exercise and why am I addicted in a good way to getting up early every morning and exercising.

Suzuki runs an interactive research lab at NYU where her work has been recognized with numerous awards. She began to research the mind-body connection when she realized her own life seemed to be solely wrapped around her career to the exclusion of everything else, including her non-existent love life.

Her most recent research focuses on how exercise directly affects the brain and how to unlock the keys to neuroplasticity. Brain plasticity refers to the idea that the brain has the ability to change (like a piece of malleable plastic) and it can grow new connections within itself.

The book is part a scientific study and part memoir as readers journey with Suzuki in trying to find a better understanding as to what exactly is going on with the brain when we exercise. And as she states: “In many ways, this entire book is a narrative about my journey to find my own personal creative process-beginning with the connection I first made between exercise and my own brain and continuing to to this moment.”

What she discovered, which is fully explained in detail in the book, is that the body has a powerful influence on our brain functions and conversely the brain has a powerful influence as to how our bodies feel, work and heal. When we exercise, growth factors are produced that have the ability to improve brain structure over time. Not only does this include more and sronger connections between brain cells, but also more neurons and supporting cells. This is particular in evidence in the hippocampus, a region of the brain that is important in memory and learning.

Her personal experiences in participating in a particular exercise known as intenSati confirmed what many studies have found that exercise boosts levels of the three key monoamine transmitters that play a key role in mood-serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine. In addition, exercise increases levels of endorphins, and as she explains, Endorphin literally means “endogenous (made in the body) morphine.” In other words, it is a kind of morphine that can dull pain and provide feelings of euphoria. It should be pointed out that intenSati pairs positive spoken affirmations with aerobic workout moves. Incidentally, Suzuki was so impressed with this form of exercise and how it affected her own lifestyle and mood that she became an intenSati instructor and introduced it into her classroom teaching.

The book divides itself into ten sections beginning with how Suzuki became interested in Neuroscience and goes onto explore the mysteries of memory, how exercise affects the brain, implementing exercise in the classroom, stress, making your brain smile, the creative brain, and meditation. Each chapter contains a brief resumé, take-aways and exercises. There is also an extensive reference section at the back of the book.

This meaningful book illustrates that Suzuki with her extensive scientific knowledge and ability to think out of the box has the tools to help us have a better grasp of the relationship of the mind and body. In addition, her findings have reaffirmed the ancient saying, mens sana in corpore sanuma healthy mind lives in a healthy body. Nonetheless, although we may have a better understanding of the effects of exercise on the brain, we have only scratched the surface as there still remains many questions left to address.