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Health Benefits of Reading

By | May 20, 2015

ih_may2015_benefitsreadingbooksDid you know that reading is one of the few pleasures that comes with health benefits? Reading, especially fiction, has a profound effect on mental agility, memory and our capacity for imagination and compassion. It also helps alleviate stress and aids sleep.

 


Benefits:

  • Reduces stress
  • Refines brain function – flexes the imagination, expands a person’s emotional intelligence and ability to be compassionate
  • Helps your memory – reading helps your brain to retain information over time, which means you read better making you sharper and smarter
  • Enhances mental agility in old age – a busy brain can slow cognitive decline by 15% and delay Alzheimer’s.

“When you read, you have more time to think. Reading gives you a unique pause button for comprehension and insight.”

Ken Pugh, Director of Research at Haskins Laboratories, Yale

Want to reduce stress?

  • Reading for just six minutes can reduce stress by more than 60% (slowing the heart rate and easing tension in muscles)
  • Reading is more effective than listening to music or having a cup of tea.

Reading from a Screen versus Paper

Reading from a screen just before bedtime may disrupt sleep quality. Recent research shows that people have a harder time falling asleep, spend less time in the crucial REM phase of sleep and are less alert the next day. It has to do with the backlit screen which suppresses the release of melatonin which brings on sleep.

Likewise another study shows that readers absorb less information on devices than on paper. It has to do with the tactile sense of progress as you advance through the pages supporting the visual sense when you’re reading.

Finding it hard to find time to read?

Are you reading fewer books than you used to? Are you finding it harder and harder to concentrate? Do you start reading and then need just a little something else like a quick look at your phone, a tweet, an email or a link?

Digital devices are programmed to make us pay attention to them. New emails, tweets and such like create a rush of dopamine to the brain which makes us feel good.  Our brains are programmed to seek out things that give us these rushes so eventually neural pathways are created and the pattern creates an unconscious habit. Successful multi-tasking is a myth – it actually makes us less effective and we feel more exhausted so spend less time reading, according to Levitin, (2014). This digital dopamine addiction means we have trouble focusing on books, work, family and friends. Is it really worth it?

What Can You Do?

  • Limit checking your emails, Twitter, Facebook, etc to specific times each day; at work and at home
  • Keep your tempting digital device out of reach or turn it off, especially at night.

Mrs Karen Carswell, Librarian


 

References

Brech, A. (2015). Book smart; the unexpected health benefits of being an avid reader.

Levitin, D. J. (2014). The Organised Mind – Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload.