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August 18, 2016

Four compelling reasons to shut off your screen and open a good book

In the eighteenth century, essayists Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele wrote, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” Hundreds of years later, this quote could not be more true. Studies conducted over the last few decades have proven the scientific benefits of reading.  Curling up with a good book is not only enjoyable, it can positively impact your mental and emotional health.

Reading is proven to reduce stress and increase relaxation.

Reading books, particularly fiction, fully engages the mind and imagination. Any activity that possesses meditative qualities in which the brain is fully focused on a single task is proven to reduce stress and enhance relaxation. In a study conducted by the University of Sussex, individuals who had read for merely six minutes exhibited slower heart rates, less muscle tension, and reduced stress levels. Dr. David Lewis, the neuroscientist who conducted the study, reported that reading, “is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.” It turns out getting lost in a good book truly is the ultimate form of relaxation!

Reading combats mental decline and Alzheimer’s with old age.

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The benefits of reading expand beyond reduced anxiety and stress. Studies have linked reading to good brain health in old age. Individuals who read regularly across their lifespan showed increased mental capacity as they aged. Those individuals who read less frequently throughout their life and did not continue to engage their brains in old age experienced a mental decline rate that was 48 percent faster than those who kept their brains active across their lives.

One study found a positive association between cognitive based activities such as reading and a decreased chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Just like the heart, the brain is a muscle that needs to be taken care of in order to function at its fullest capacity throughout our lifetimes.

Doctors have prescribed reading as a treatment for certain mental health conditions.

One in five adults in the United States experience a mental illness at some point in their lives. Reading self help books has proven to be an effective method for helping adults cope with mental illness. In the UK, doctors have embraced the approach of using bibliotherapy, or treatment through the use of books, for patients with mental health conditions. Doctors have been incorporating required reading as part of a patient’s prescription. The goal is to bring the benefits of reading to millions of patients with anxiety and depression.

People who read often, become more empathetic.

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As if stress reduction, improved mental health, and healthy brain function weren’t enough, reading can also help individuals become more empathetic and increase their self-awareness. In particular, reading literary fiction can increase one’s understanding of others and improve relationships. As readers become engrossed in a storyline, they empathize with characters and learn their motivations and behavior patterns. This increases a person’s understanding of human behavior which is knowledge that carries over to life outside of a novel. Furthermore, when readers select novels that are set in locations with cultures other than their own, they further develop an awareness of diverse human populations and perspectives.

With all of these benefits, there is no doubt that reading is truly the powerhouse of leisure activities. When you’re done reading this blog, why not shut down your computer and pick up a good book!

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