Every year I make the same resolution – to read more. A few years ago I resolved to read 52 books in one year. It didn’t work. Being a so-called millennial, I remember the time when there was no social media. The internet was around, but you needed a dial-up modem and it took fifteen minutes to load one page. I had no choice but to read and that’s what I did.
I read many books as a child. My understanding of the world and the people in it came from books. My ability to write both fiction and non-fiction is down to reading. Yet, I struggle to sit down and read books today. Occasionally, I’ll find a book that hits the right note and it feels like the world falls away. I get sucked into another universe and I feel good. And then the book ends, forcing me to keep on starting new ones to try and achieve the same high – similar to what happens when you finish binge-watching a show.
I have now started reading more nonfiction books. With nonfiction, there is rarely a hook or climax. It’s just reading about the topic of interest. They’re not always easy reads, but since when was reading supposed to be easy? Reading is fun, but it’s also a valuable learning tool that benefits us in many different ways. From today, I’m looking at reading as a task and not a pastime.
On that note, here are five ways that reading is good for us and our brains!
1. You Learn From It
A parent or a teacher has only his lifetime; a good book can teach forever. —Louis L’Amour
It’s no surprise that more children turned to books during the national lockdowns imposed as part of the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, we were all faced with more free time than usual. There are so many hours we can spend binging TV shows. For children, in particular, having more time to read was highly beneficial. Not just for educational purposes, but because they renewed their enjoyment in reading in a world where everything is becoming increasingly web-based.
Many of us learn what we know today from books, and reading will always be a good learning tool. Reading can improve our vocabulary. An extensive range of vocabulary is linked to higher levels of intelligence. That person you know who always uses big words? They probably read a lot! Children who read a lot may become smarter later on in life. I’d say that’s a good reason to read. Not to be outdone, reading can also increase brain strength. It’s like a power-up for our brains. Reading can improve memory function and slow down the natural decline as we age.
It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations—something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own. —Katherine Patterson
2. It Enhances Our Imagination
The more we read, the more we expand our knowledge and add to our mental bank of information. We come up with new ideas or even a new understanding of past ideas. Reading allows us to imagine different scenarios like places we’ve never been or the haunted house we hope we’re never trapped inside. We develop these images in our minds, almost like creating muscle memory. Reading books taps into our imaginations in ways that encourage creativity and innovation. Much of the things we take for granted today (computers, the internet, etc.) have some basis in reading and what we take away from it.
Not everyone has access to books, and it is a privilege that we can read. Through reading, we may even be able to help those less fortunate than we are. We learn certain emotions like empathy and caring from the fictional characters we grow to love. If nurtured and developed, we can use these skills in real life with friends, families, and anyone we want to help.
3. It Improves Your Memory
Researchers found that reading regularly increases the amount of white matter in the brain. This is important because white matter makes up half of the brain. The white colour comes from myelin, a white fatty substance around the nerve fibres (known as axons). Myelin is vital in maintaining sensory, motor, and cognitive function. An increase in white matter improves our ability to communicate and perform our day-to-day activities better.
Reading also activates the part of our brains related to certain words. For example, if you’re reading a description of a smell, it triggers the area of our brain that detects scents.
Different types of text can impact how we process words. Poetry tends to elicit an emotional response, activating the parts of our brain not triggered by music or television.
If you’re thinking, ‘hey, I read the news and/or long documents for work/school’ – think again. According to researchers at Stanford, there is a difference between ‘focused’ reading and reading for pleasure (although, I think we could already agree on this before, right?). It turns out that blood flows into different areas in the brain when we’re reading different types of text. Natalie Phillips, the scholar who led the study, suggested that different reading styles create unique patterns in the brain.
4. It Can Reduce Stress
According to a study carried out by Dr David Lewis, reading for up to six minutes a day can reduce stress levels by 60%.
Reading helps lower the heart rate, reduce muscle tension and change our state of mind. If you’ve had a rough day, sitting down and reading a chapter of your novel of choice may give you a more positive outlook on life. Listening to music, taking a walk, and playing video games may be your preferred activity, but research has found reading is better at reducing our stress level when compared to those.
5. It May Reduce The Risk of Dementia
According to the Alzheimer Association, dementia is the ‘loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life’ and its most common cause is Alzheimer’s Disease.
It’s been discovered that reading over the course of life can slow down memory loss. That’s right. The more you read, the more likely you are to have everything in working older when you’re old enough to take some drips down memory lane. Our mental decline is also reduced by 32% if we continue to read later on in life, compared to those who don’t read – their decline is 48% faster.
This is important when we take into consideration some of the medical conditions that we may developed later in life such as Alzheimer’s Disease.
8 Science-Backed Reasons to Read a (Real) Book. Change in the Brain's White Matter Children and young people's reading in 2020 before and during the COVID-19 lockdown | National Literacy Trust How reading rewires your brain for higher intelligence and empathy - Big Think Life-span cognitive activity, neuropathologic burden, and cognitive aging | Neurology Reading books could increase lifespan Reading Enhances Imagination - World Literacy Foundation This is your brain on Jane Austen, and researchers at Stanford are taking notes White Matter Brain Changes Result from Reading Remediation : Neurology Today. Why reading can be good for mental health · MHFA England