Over the last few years, I tried out the old adage, an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Then I found out that that’s not necessarily true. Maybe the saying should go like this, a book a day keeps the doctor away.
Turns out there are many health benefits to reading. And reading doesn’t add calories. Let’s look at some of them.
Keeping your brain sharp is extremely important. It is especially important as you move into the senior years, but evidence suggests that the best approach is to keep your brain sharp throughout your life. Along with writing, and performing brain-stimulating activities (like puzzles and brain teasers), reading has been scientifically proven to improve memory.
It may play a role in deferring or diminishing, possibly even preventing, Alzheimer’s disease. While science is not ready to declare definitively that reading prevents Alzheimer’s, there is enough anecdotal evidence for scientists to start studying it. What is known is that increased physical activity, blood pressure control, and cognitive training (which reading falls under) is the best plan of action so far for treating the disease.
Reading also increases a person’s empathy. The part of the brain that controls your empathetic response is called the supramarginal gyrus. If we need to make quick decisions or this part of the brain is damaged, our empathetic response goes down. But science has proven that reading fiction has a positive effect on increasing a person’s cognitive empathy.
There are many mental health benefits of reading. Let’s start with depression. Reading has been shown to decrease depression. Self-help books are particularly invaluable in decreasing depression.
We have all experienced more stress than we care to acknowledge over the last couple of years. Reading helps us to cut that down, and deal with the remaining with much more confidence. I don’t have to tell you how this can increase your quality of life, reducing stress can also have some surprising positive effects. For instance, increased stress has been found to accelerate aging of your immune system.
Reading, especially fiction, also has a positive influence on our social skills. As we read and increase our empathy, we develop tolerance toward groups different from ourselves. It dissipates the fear that we harbor toward people we do not understand because it opens a lens into their lives.
Better communication is also a byproduct of reading as it teaches us how to resolve our issues through the examples of problem-solving presented in literature. It exposes us to new language, new words, and new combinations of the two, increasing our overall communication skills.
Better social skills and communication help us live better in the world, which helps bolster our mental health.
My husband and I make it a practice to read before bed. It is a great way to cast off the cares of the day, immerse ourselves in a different world, and settle our minds to be able to easily fall asleep.
Reading has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate. Who cannot benefit from that?
If living a longer life is your goal, start reading. According to this study that compared book readers to non-book readers over a period of 12 years, the readers showed a 20% lower risk of mortality with a 4-month advantage.
A book-a-day may indeed keep the doctor away. With so many health benefits for the practice of reading, you will want to add it to your self-care regimen.
Copyright 2022, Monica Nelson