I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book – J.K. Rowling
This morning I was in an exercise class. Afterwards as we were stretching, we discussed what we were doing for "self-care." Things like soaking feet in epsom salt, taking a nap, devotions, puzzles and so on were shared. I told them that I read whodunnits.
I heard a quiet voice say something like, "Who has the time for that?" Now that's a commentary not just on reading, but on self-care in general. AND if he only knew the research on reading, he might make the time.
Reading seems miraculously connected to so many aspects of the good life. No one would be surprised to find that reading improves vocabulary and cognitive skills, but how about dementia? Some researchers say, yes, reading fights off dementia.
This claim is based on a small study in which participants who read had brain autopsies after death to look for signs that they had any of the different forms of dementia. The researchers concluded that activities such as reading could help slow down dementia.
I can’t vouch for that in my own life. What I can share is this. A few years ago, while fishing at Nootka Island in British Columbia, I was surprised to meet a fellow from Leavenworth. That wasn’t the only surprise. This man was sharp as a tack and was over a hundred years old. Curious about any secret I could decipher about his longevity and clarity of mind, I questioned him incessantly. He believed his sharpness was primarily due to his intentional daily reading. He kept a composition book filled with hundreds of titles he had read in the last few years. So maybe.
But there’s more.
Reading improves civic participation, altruism, and a sense of belonging to a community. Reading improves satisfaction with life, well-being, and health in general.
Reading lowers the perception of pain. You’re not going to believe it, but some British researchers say that reading is THE primo stress reliever.
According to them, reading for six minutes lowers stress significantly better than any of our common stress busters including talking a walk. The lead researcher claims that reading is more than a distraction. It lowers our heart beat, relaxes our muscles and takes us away from ourselves, much like meditation.
In fact several ancient libraries in Egypt, Alexandria, and Thebes had inscriptions above them indicating that the place was a house for healing the soul. Bibliotherapy, which is the use of books to help people solve all sorts of problems including grief, anxiety, and depression, started years ago. In the mid 1800’s some hospitals had libraries to aid people’s healing. Researchers report that bibliotherapy often works to alleviate many forms of distress.
Some thinkers see reading as one of the best ideas for creating social change because readers become higher income earners. AND because one type of reading, in particular, does something truly amazing.
Reading fiction appears to increase awareness, empathy, and compassion for self and for others. People who read fiction have better so called “theory of mind.” They are better able to understand themselves and others. Better relationships, less violence, and increased self-esteem are the result.
But perhaps you buy none of this research stuff. I get it. Research can be faulty. But a little foray into reading is something you can try out for yourself, it’s risk-free, and often enjoyable. See what happens.
September 6th is read a book day. Could be a good time to kick off an experiment or a new goal.
However I know that some have real issues around reading and they've found a great deal of pleasure in audio books. I don't know the research on that, but I think it's worth considering.
Something for the children. The newest research I ran into about reading (which actually prompted this article) came from the Journal of Psychological Medicine.
Reading for pleasure as a child is linked to higher IQ and better psychological health later on, a study finds. Around 12 hours of reading per week in childhood was the optimal amount.
It is possible that reading more than this suggests a child is lacking in other activities that are cognitively enriching, such as social and sporting activities. Around 12 hours of reading for pleasure was also associated with a larger brain and improved structure.
Professor Barbara Sahakian, study co-author, said: “Reading isn’t just a pleasurable experience – it’s widely accepted that it inspires thinking and creativity, increases empathy and reduces stress.
But on top of this, we found significant evidence that it’s linked to important developmental factors in children, improving their cognition, mental health, and brain structure, which are cornerstones for future learning and well-being.”
The study included over 10,000 adolescents in the U.S., some of whom began reading for pleasure early on, some later and others not at all. Around half had little or no experience of reading for pleasure or did not pick up the habit until later on. The results revealed a strong link between reading for pleasure from an early age and better performance on tests of memory, verbal learning and speech development.
Those children who read more for pleasure had fewer signs of depression , stress and behavioral problems, as well as better attention. They also used screens less and slept for longer. Brain scans revealed that readers had larger brains, particularly in areas critical for cognitive function. Professor Jianfeng Feng, study co-author, said: “We encourage parents to do their best to awaken the joy of reading in their children at an early age.
Done right, this will not only give them pleasure and enjoyment, but will also help their development and encourage long-term reading habits, which may also prove beneficial into adult life.”
Did I mention that September 8th is also International Literacy Day and the whole month of September has been declared the month of self-improvement by some body somewhere? Could be something to consider. (And if not reading, what are you doing for self-care? I'm curious to know.)
How might you move up to The Good Life by ramping up your reading?