Reading: A Chapter A Day Keeps The Doctor Away

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When I was younger, I would always have my head buried in a book, absorbing everything I could get my hands on. from classics like Don Quixote and Gulliver’s Travels to early science fiction by Ray Bradbury and Arthur C Clarke.

To say I was an avid reader was an understatement. Books were my companions on the long bumpy bus ride to school in regional Western Australia and during long hours spent in the library while the other kids played outside.

And while I always knew reading was my own personal salvation, I recently discovered that it’s actually good for everyone in general, with a range of health benefits now being attributed to it. These include boosting brainpower, reducing stress, slowing cognitive decline, improving sleep, and even extending overall life expectancy.

 

Reading: A Chapter A Day Keeps The Doctor Away

 

Health benefits of reading

“Reading books is as important as exercising and eating healthy food”. Australian Seniors

Here are just some of the amazing benefits that have been attributed to reading;

  • Boosts brain power – reading is thought to lead to the creation of new neurons and neural connections, which accelerates the brain’s processing speed. A 2013 study using MRI scans confirmed that brain connectivity increased amongst participants while reading a novel and for several days afterward.
  • Increases empathy – reading fiction that explores the inner lives of characters is believed to heighten our ability to empathise with others, with long-term literary fiction readers thought to have more empathy than most. 
  • Slows cognitive decline – reading has been shown to maintain and improve cognitive functioning and a study that analysed the brains of participants after death found those who engaged in mentally stimulating activities like reading displayed less evidence of dementia such as brain lesions or plaques.
  • Reduces stress – a study in 2009 found that half an hour of reading lowered blood pressure, heart rate, and feelings of psychological distress in participants just as effectively as doing yoga or watching humorous videos.

 

Reading: A Chapter A Day Keeps The Doctor Away

 

  • Improves sleep – using a smartphone before bedtime has been linked to shorter sleep duration and poorer sleep quality due to the brightness of the screen. But reading a book before bedtime helps to promote better sleep by allowing you to wind down and relax before sleeping. 
  • Reduces depression – reading fiction has been shown to help those feeling isolated and estranged by allowing them to temporarily escape their own problems. Reading non-fiction self-help books can also help those with depression by teaching them strategies for managing their symptoms.
  • Improves memory – reading a book involves remembering a range of different characters, backgrounds, plots, and subplots. And every new memory created forges new brain synapses, assisting in short-term memory recall. 
  • Improves concentration – unlike multitasking, which most of us do constantly every day, reading a book allows you to slow down and immerse yourself in the details of a single story. This can improve your concentration and help you to be more focused in life. 
  • Extends life expectancy –  a long-term study found that those participants who read books lived around 2 years longer than those who didn’t and those who read more than 3 1/2 hours a week were 23% more likely to live longer than those who didn’t. This may be because reading lowers the risk of neurodegenerative diseases that can shorten lifespan.

 

Reading: A Chapter A Day Keeps The Doctor Away

 

So there you have it. Lots of evidence to support the theory that reading is both mentally and physically beneficial. And what more telling evidence could there be than adding my own personal testimony to the list.

After being a self-confessed ‘bookaholic’ as a child, failing eyesight in later life caused me to stop reading as much as I had in the past and to look to visual media for my edification and entertainment (i.e. TV and videos).

The large print books that were being distributed through libraries did provide some variety, but their range of topics was fairly limited. It was only when the Kindle reader came along that I was once again given access to mainstream reading, being able to enlarge the text to a size I could more easily see.

And I am pleased to say, I can now feel the benefits of reading coming back to me. My memory, which was getting a little fuzzy around the edges is now sharper than ever, I am worrying less about unimportant things and sleeping like a baby most nights. And that wonderful feeling of escaping to another world is with me again every time I reach for my latest read.

So if you’re not much of a reader or you’ve let your reading slide in recent years, do yourself a favour and open a book real soon. Because as Stephen King says, “they’re a uniquely portable magic” and the benefits they offer us are just too great to ignore.

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