Reading can have profound positive effects on both your mental and physical health. In this article, we are going to discuss the tremendous mental health benefits offered by reading.
Joseph Addison was right when he said, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body .”Reading is a great way of taking care of your mental well-being. It is the same as exercising a muscle. With the passage of time, reading exercises will improve your comprehension as well as speed. Recently reading has been a center of scientific attention as more and more studies are being conducted to investigate the mental health effects of reading. Brain scans were taken for the purpose of this research clearly showed that reading engages multiple complex networks of nerves and signals in the brain, resulting in enhanced brain connectivity. This brain connectivity was especially prominent in the somatosensory cortex, the parietal lobe responsible for interpreting physical sensations. In addition to strengthening neural circuits and pathways, mental health benefits of reading range from the improved emphasizing ability to reduced stress, slow progression of cognitive decline to improved sleep quality. Along with all these benefits, reading is a very inexpensive form of self-therapy that allows you to take matters of your wellbeing into your own hands.
- Reading relieves stress and prevents depression
Reading is a great way to escape from the harsh realities of life and seek refuge in another life. This imaginative escape can allow you to forget about all your worries for some time and provides your brain a window to take a breather. A study conducted in 2009 by Denise Rizzolo and her team showed that participants who read every day reported a 70% reduction in their stress levels. Reading does so by lowering your blood pressure and heart rate. The study’s main objective was to investigate the stress-reducing effects of reading compared to those of yoga and humor. The results revealed that 30 minutes of reading every day could have similar effects to yoga and humor when it comes to reducing stress. Denise Rizzoli, one of the authors of the study, said that “Since time constraints are one of the most frequently cited reasons for high-stress levels reported by health science students, 30 minutes of one of these techniques can be easily incorporated into their schedule without diverting a large amount of time from their studies.” This shocking discovery speaks volumes about the anti-depressant capabilities of reading. So, if you feel a little down and want to provide yourself a healthy distraction to relax, go pick up any book that sparks your interest.
- Improves sleep quality
Did you know reading improves the quality of your sleep and, in turn, allows you to give your productivity a quick boost? Experts define quality sleep as a good deep sleep without any distractions. A night of good quality sleep is very important for your overall health. On the other hand, poor sleep quality is defined by an irregular sleep pattern, drowsiness during the day, and waking up several times during the night. Reading before hitting the sack is a great way to ensure that you get a good night’s sleep and you wake up fresh and energetic. Moreover, since reading reduces stress and helps clear your mind, it allows you to stop overthinking and puts you to sleep as soon as you close the book. In all honesty, sometimes, while you are reading the book. But if the story has you hooked, don’t worry. You won’t fall asleep in the middle of reading.
Electronic devices emit blue light, which can interfere with your sleep routine by stimulating the brain and fooling it into thinking it’s daytime. Thus, the use of phones and e-readers can keep you up late at night. In order to reap the sleep-related benefits of reading, make sure you avoid e-readers and go with actual paper books.
- Empowers you to empathize with others.
Reading fictional stories allows us to transport ourselves into alternate realities and put ourselves in other people’s shoes. Doing so helps us become more imaginative, creative, emotionally intelligent individuals. Along with these benefits of reading fiction, another benefit of reading fiction is that it enhances your ability to empathize with other people. Fiction opens us up to different people’s lives and promotes a better understanding of their emotions, situations, and circumstances. Multiple brain scans have revealed that reading fiction lights up the same areas of the brain responsible for understanding others and navigating interactions with others—reading fictional stories builds you the ability to see the world and others from a set of new eyes. It gives you a fresh new perspective. Psychologist Raymond Mar after examining and studying 86 fMRI scans, concluded that “In particular, interactions in which we’re trying to figure out the thoughts and feelings of others. Scientists call this capacity of the brain to construct a map of other people’s intentions ‘theory of mind.’ Narratives offer a unique opportunity to engage this capacity, as we identify with characters’ longings and frustrations, guess at their hidden motives, and track their encounters with friends and enemies, neighbors and lovers.” So, if you want to encourage shared understanding in order to develop and maintain strong social relationships, fictional books can help you in your quest.
- Slows down age-related Cognitive decline
Age-related cognitive decline is marked by slowness in thinking, inability to find words, difficulty in multitasking, and having a hard time retaining information. The most common causes of this cognitive impairment in older people include dementia, depression, anxiety, and Alzheimer’s. Reading is a very effective exercise to keep age-related cognitive decline at bay by keeping your brain active and engaged as you grow old. While inactivity can increase your risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s, reading can help you steer clear of such diseases. A study showed that people who regularly read are 2.5 times less likely to get Alzheimer’s. Multiple studies show that incorporating reading into your daily routine can help increase your cognitive functioning.
Moreover, the earlier you immerse yourself in mentally stimulating and invigorating activities like reading, the better it is. Doing so can prevent the symptoms of dementia. So, don’t wait until you get old to start reading. Pick up a book and start reading today.
- It builds up your brain
As we mentioned before, reading is an exercise for your brain. Reading works all your important brain muscles that are involved in keeping your brain healthy. In a 2014 study, “Reading skill and structural brain development,” reading was classified as a learned skill that is greatly influenced by brain maturity. It stimulates optimal patterns of brain development and is especially important for young brains. Regular reading can help with comprehension, speech, the ability to develop social-emotional skills, and build powerful neural pathways. It also promotes imagination which is essential for brain development in children.
- Helps add words to your vocabulary.
“Vocabulary enables us to interpret and to express. If you have a limited vocabulary, you will also have a limited vision and a limited future.” Having an expansive vocabulary is very important. It can increase your comprehension speed, ability to interact with a diverse set of people, and capacity to think outside the box. Reading books is the most effective way to gain exposure to new words. Research shows that students who are in the habit of regular reading are more likely to develop larger vocabularies as compared to students who don’t. Large vocabularies also give students an extra edge in SATs and other standardized tests and in areas of life that require soft skills. It may also help them to land and ace job interviews. New words also play a critical role in children’s brain development. Whenever a child learns to decipher a new word, he not only adds that new word to his word library but also establishes a new connection in visual and spoken parts of the brain, which changes the structure of the brain.
- Helps brain focus
Another surprising benefit of reading is that it improves your ability to focus on things. Normally an adult can only concentrate on a task for about 20 minutes before he is distracted by other things. Knowing how to focus and concentrate on one thing by fully barring yourself from external distractions and devoting your undivided attention to one thing is not easy. It requires a lot of practice, especially in today’s digital era where our emails and phone notifications keep us from dedicating our complete attention to solely one task. If you wish to increase your attention span, a good way to start with would be developing a habit of a task that requires a lot of focus. Reading is one such thing. It requires you to give all your attention to the words to absorb and retain the information, connect the dots, and read between the lines. This improved attention span which would develop as a result of consistent reading habits, will allow you to excel both in your personal and professional life.
- Helps you learn new knowledge
Reading is one of the main ways to expand and acquire knowledge about multiple dimensions of life. It would also expose you to new problems and new solutions and make you a better observer. Furthermore, having knowledge and understanding about a vast array of subjects will definitely make you a good conversationalist. A word of advice: just don’t come off as a know-it-all. Reading will add new facts and information to your database. Having broad knowledge also keeps your mind open and agile- improving your brain flexibility. Moreover, the new knowledge acquired as a result of reading grows exponentially, allowing you to improve your critical thinking skills. New knowledge stimulates you and allows you to think in different ways.
- Increases mental flexibility
Reading makes our brains more willing to readily change in response to new situations. It allows us to mentally grow and flow with life instead of being emotionally stuck in one place. This is because reading opens us up to new perspectives. Mental agility is a trainable skill that one can develop by making a habit of regular reading. This flexible mindset also allows us to adjust to different tasks and responsibilities without resisting change. This enhanced mental flexibility is especially noticeable in people who read poetry. According to Philip Davis from the University of Liverpool, “The sustained experience of reading poems [might] increase mental flexibility through the process of reappraisal of meaning and the acceptance of new meaning .”If you wish to make yourself more adaptable to changes in behaviors and situations, start reading books today.
- Helps teenagers transition into adults
Becoming an adult can be very challenging for some teenagers. It requires a change in the level of maturity, thinking, and the way they handle their relationships. Reading can help teenagers gain insights into adult relationships, their values, and their self-identity. It can expand their horizons by making them more aware of the people and the world. It can allow them to explore some important adult issues and gain an understanding of the issues they might encounter in the future. In this way, reading may help teenagers have a smoother transition from childhood to adulthood.
Reading has been a favourite pastime of many generations for a reason. In fact, it is more than just a hobby or a pastime. People should see reading as a form of self-care. It adds endless benefits to our daily lives, including both mental and physical benefits. The mental benefits of reading include increased mental flexibility, a stronger brain, expansive vocabulary, slow age-related cognitive decline, reduced stress, improved quality of sleep, and enhanced ability to empathize with others.At first, you might feel that reading is boring, but once you develop a habit of it, your day won’t pass without you reading something, and your body and mind would be thanking you for developing this habit. So in order to reap all the potential benefits of reading that I have listed down for you, pick up a book now! Happy Reading!
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