Girl reading a book. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Reading is often associated as a school requirement. Unfortunately, a large portion of the U.S. population does not read books post-graduation. This means that many of us read less as we get older. While it’s a fact that some of us enjoy reading better than others, it is also a fact that reading benefits everyone at all levels. Aside from pleasure out of a good novel, reading has some surprising benefits to your brain and overall well-being. If you haven’t read a book in a while, now may be the time to add reading to an overall healthy routine.
1. Better Cognitive Skills
Cognitive skills are often a focus in children because their brains are still growing and developing. As you age, the brain slows down in cognition, especially if you don’t exercise it. Regular, long-term reading may improve cognitive skills. This includes, but is not limited to:
- thinking skills
- better attention
- fine and gross motor skills
- critical thinking
- better decision-making
According to the New York Times, regular reading can create a “cognitive reserve” that can have long-lasting impacts on your brain health.
2. Improved Memory
Memory loss is another brain problem associated with age. Reading can also help protect the brain by improving overall memory skills. This effect is similar to muscle memory that occurs after regular workouts. While you might not necessarily memorize a particular book, reading requires a particular mindset in which you keep track of characters, setting, and plot. The benefits of this type of brain exercise can transfer into other activities.
3. Looking Beyond Your Imagination
Most reading materials require a large amount of visualization on your part. This is another kind of exercise that can improve your overall brain health. Aside from visualizing what a particular setting or character looks like in a story, imagination can also create a sense of empathy. Empathizing with other people and situations can decrease stress and boost your overall well-being.
Mental health patients are often prescribed different types of therapy relevant to their condition. While not as widely known as other therapies, bibliotherapy is another option mental health professionals sometimes recommend for patients with anxiety or depression. The American Library Association explains that a reading program can help patients in three steps:
- making a personal connection between reader and the author/character in book
- an emotional release
- reaching a rational solution to a problem
Keep in mind that bibliotherapy only works for mild or moderate cases of anxiety or depression. Regular reading can help symptoms, but should not replace other treatments prescribed by a doctor.
Exercise is an important component to your health. Just as important, however, is regular relaxation. Learning to unwind can significantly decrease stress and fatigue. In the long-term, relaxation may also decrease your risk for illnesses. There are many ways to relax, and reading can be one of them. Keep in mind that if you want to read to relax, choose materials that won’t contribute to stress.
6. Weight Management
While you might occasionally read on the treadmill, the fact is that the majority of reading happens while you’re sitting. Still, this activity can surprisingly lead to better weight management over a long period of time. The active engagement experience during reading leads to fewer episodes of overeating, which is common with more mindless activities such as watching television.
Make Reading a Part of Your Healthy Lifestyle
Basic reading skills are essential to our jobs as well as other activities. The problem is that many adults don’t do any reading outside of emails, texts, and social media. If you’re looking to add reading to your everyday routine, the key is to create the right atmosphere. Try to:
- establish a separate reading area away from televisions
- read at the same time every day
- keep a variety of reading materials handy
- read at the same time as other family members
- Bergland, Christopher. (2014, January 4). Reading Fiction Improves Brain Connectivity and Function. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201401/reading-fiction-improves-brain-connectivity-and-function
- Bibliotherapy. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/tools/bibliotherapy
- Creating a Reader-Friendly Home. (2013, May). Retrieved from http://kidshealth.org/parent/homework/reading/reading_home.html
- Helliker, Kevin. (2007, July 31). Bibliotherapy: Reading Your Way to Mental Health. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/news/articles/SB118583572352482728
- Nagourney, Eric. (2007, August 7). Mental Abilities: Good Readers Better Able to Retain Brain Skills. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/07/health/07ment.html?_r=0
Author Bio: Kristeen Cherney is a freelance health and lifestyle writer who also has a certificate in nutrition. Her work has been published on numerous health-related websites. Previously, she worked as a communications and marketing professional. Kristeen holds a BA in Communication from Florida Gulf Coast University, and is currently pursuing an MA in English. When she's not writing or studying, she enjoys walking, kick-boxing, yoga, and traveling.
The views, opinions, and beliefs expressed by guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of Girl Who Reads. Come to Donna's Birthday Book Party to hear about other great books Jan. 18 - 23.