It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it. ~ Oscar Wilde Click To Tweet
From birth, the majority of us have been subjected to countless books and thousands of words. From our parents reading bedtime stories, to our teachers encouraging us to dig deep for a different perspective, to our own personal crusades to find the next best opus as teenagers (or pulpy young-adult novel), reading is a substantial part of our development as people.
Yet with physical exercise forever being touted as the conqueror of depression and negativity, the idea of mental stimulation often falls to the wayside. But reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. As little (or as much) as a half hour a day can work wonders.
So, what does a daily dose of reading do exactly? Well, a number of things. Here are some of the most impressive.
Staves Off Depression & Dementia
“When everything else is controlled for, bilinguals who come down with Alzheimer’s do so about 4.5 years later than monolinguals.” ~ Dr. Thomas Bak, University of Edinburgh
Alzheimer’s is unfortunately a rising affliction. Unless science can somehow nip it in the bud, there are fears that it may reach epidemic proportions in the next few decades. And while research for it is chronically underfunded, some recent studies have shown that by staying mentally stimulated (i.e. reading over television), you have a good chance at slowing down the rapid pace with which the disease can take hold.
It’s also good for the blues. Ever heard of ‘bibliotherapy’? No, well it is indeed a thing. And it’s pretty simple. Basically it involves delving into literature that you find engrossing or enjoy, whatever it may be, and allowing it to do its thing. You lose yourself in it, for however long, and it lifts your mood. And while we don’t know the exact mechanics of what’s happening in the brain when you do, its alleviating effects on depression have shown effectiveness.
Increases Emotional Intelligence & Empathy
As if all this weren’t enough, reading is also beneficial in the development and maintenance of empathy towards others, specifically literary fiction. That’s right, by benefiting yourself by being greedy with your time and gobbling up some fiction, you are also helping others!
The idea is that the ‘truer-to-life’ complexity and depth of characters in literary fiction — as opposed to their more predictable counterparts in popular fiction — force us to relate more, therefore changing our perspective regarding others once we put the book down.
Reduces Stress & Exercises Memory
“Subjects only needed to read, silently, for six minutes to slow down the heart rate and ease tension in the muscles… In fact it got subjects to stress levels lower than before they started.” ~ Dr David Lewis, Neuropsychologist, Sussex Innovation Centre
Given that daily reading helps with depression, it should come as no surprise that part of that has to do with stress-reduction. According to The Argus, a 2009 study conducted by the University of Sussex found that even 6 minutes of reading was more effective at reducing the physical symptoms of stress than having a cup of tea, taking a walk, or even listening to music.
Impressive. But even more impressive? Reading — specifically of our favourite passages of poetry — may just be good exercise for your memory. Yes, we all know math does wonders in this area, but poetry? According to a 2013 study at The University of Exeter, UK, in which participants were scanned with an fMRI while reading different types of writing, the areas of the brain most associated with memory lit up more prevalently than those related to reading.
Keeps You… Younger?
And, for those beauty conscious folk out there? Reading may even be linked to helping you retain your youth. Ok, so the research has centred solely on the youth of the brain, but hey, healthy brain, healthy body, no?
What they suspect is that by remaining mentally stimulated as you grow older, you may not only be exercising the plasticity of your brain, but you could very well be creating a ‘functional reserve’ of neurons that could help guard against future cell loss, keeping you sprightly and up to date well into your twilight years.
Now if that doesn’t convince you, nothing will.