Doctors tell us we need to stay fit to feel better and be healthy. “Saturday Night Live’s” Hans and Franz may have wanted to pump us up, but we have to exercise the whole body. “Hear me now but believe me later,” building the brain is as essential as building muscles and a book may be your best workout equipment.
One of the best ways to pump up the brain is to read. Soaking up words from the page is like taking a lap in a pool. Of course, a towel isn’t necessary unless you’re reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
Before I get into the benefits of reading, I want to mention that it is better to read from a physical book than a digital one. The action of turning actual pages improves comprehension and memory of the material. Although digital books are cheaper and more convenient, it is best not to spend long hours staring at screens. Readers of e-books can develop eye strain from the LED display, and reading from e-books at night can alter our sleep patterns.
Now that that’s out of the way, here are the benefits of cracking that book:
Reading reduces stress – Cognitive neuropsychologist Dr. David Lewis performed a study at the University of Sussex on the effects of reading. He found that reading for as little as 6 minutes a day can reduce stress levels by 68%. Reading slowed the subject’s heart rate, eased muscle tension, and altered the state of mind. By comparison, listening to music reduced the stress levels by 61%, having a cup of tea lowered them by 54%, and taking a walk lowered them by 42%. (The Telegraph, March 2009)
Dr. Lewis said, “It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination.
“This 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.”
Reading makes you smarter – The more you read, the more you know. If you read nonfiction, you can get almost endless amounts of information. But even if you choose to read more fictional works, you can still learn information that an author sprinkles into their stories.
Reading expands your vocabulary – Reading many different authors exposes us to new vocabulary. When we add these new words into our lexicon, we can better articulate what we want to communicate to others. For example, there is a difference between the words fast and expeditious. The former is acting or moving quickly, while speed and efficiency mark the latter.
Reading makes you a better writer – Besides expanding your vocabulary, reading broadens the use of those words. We can learn creative ways to express ourselves and reinforce correct grammar. Every writer is highly encouraged to read as much as we can, especially in our genre.
Reading makes you a better speaker – A study in the International Journal of English Linguistics, published by Canadian Center of Science and Education, shows that our increased vocabulary from reading can improve our speaking. As we develop stronger reading skills, we develop more sophisticated speaking skills. For a bonus, read out loud. The muscles in our mouths will become more comfortable saying new words and using proper grammar and diction if we practice the sentences we read.
Reading keeps your brain sharp – Just like exercise extends the life of our bodies, reading extends the life of our minds. According to a study published in Neurology, a journal by the American Academy of Neurology, regular reading throughout one’s life can improve cognitive abilities at all ages. It also enhances mental stimulation, which can prevent or even slow the progress of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Reading increases empathy – Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone’s shoes and understand what they are going through; it’s the ability to feel what they are feeling. Reading puts us directly in the shoes of the main character. Through that character’s perspective, we can get a taste of a life very different from our own. This perspective helps us develop an understanding and respect for what others experience.
Reading is valuable for our brains and bodies. We are works in progress. All of the benefits of reading can make us extraordinary, well-rounded people. Remember that too much of anything can have detrimental effects. If we sit too much enjoying our favorite authors, we may wind up rounded in areas that will require some physical exercise to reduce.