There are many reasons to read. We read to progress in academics, to gain information, to communicate, and to learn. Reading has a long and illustrious history. Even with or current level of technology, reading is a required skill. However, my favorite reason for reading is escapism. With so much turmoil and uncertainty in the world, reading a good book is an affordable and beneficial pastime. It seems the only topics people discuss anymore is politics and the pandemic. While both are important and should have part of our attention, I grow weary of hearing about it all the time. Yes, our country is in a political abyss. Yes, the pandemic is still creating chaos and concern. We can’t ignore current events, but we can find time to unplug from it all in order to retain some sort of sanity and emotional equilibrium. The best way to do that is to get lost in a book.
Reading isn’t merely a recreational activity. There are many benefits that are awarded to both casual readers and bookworms. You may be poised leisurely in your favorite spot, relaxed, and ready to be refreshed, but the effects of reading are hard at work in your brain.
1. Destress Yourself
The first benefit is obvious: while resting, relaxing reading provides pleasure and entertainment, it also provides a respite from stress. Your mind is focused on mental images conjured by the written word. The conflicts and stresses of life have no room to exist for a time. Your attention is on the story being played out in your imagination, not on the day’s problems. It gives a bit of emotional space and time to let your brain take a break from working on the mental acrobatics we face daily.
2. Good For Better Brains and Longer Life
As an English teacher, I tell my students to read, read, then read some more. Reading good books helps to build vocabulary and improve writing skills. Amazingly, studies show that reading stimulates the neural networks that develop social cognition and processes abstract thoughts and concepts. Similar studies have also claimed that reading aid the brain by keeping it engaged, firing its neurons enough to slow cognitive decline, and put off many other potentially life-threatening conditions. Some studies have indicated that people who read regularly live longer than their nonreading counterparts.
3. Build Social Skills
Bookworms are often touted introverts. On Pinterest, there are many humorous sayings about bookworms and their disdain for social interaction. However, reading will actually bolster social skills. Fictional books can teach us about how to relate to others. As a reader, you are able to get into the mind of the characters, thanks to the narration. What better way to safely explore different ways of thinking? Also, reading books will help us to develop our own personalities and philosophies. Reading exposes you to a variety of beliefs, reactions, and interactions. When engaged in a book, readers can let go a little bit of themselves and explore new ideas and thought patterns vicariously. Real-life exposure to the varying circumstances may not be possible, but delving into a book creates accessibility.
4. It’s The Real Deal
Studies have also shown that getting lost in a book has a unique brain response. When your imagination is revved up, the mental images you construct feed your brain, bolstering its response. Your brain will respond to the imagined scene, smells, noises, and touch just like it was really happening. This is one of the reasons why I tell my kids to get off their devices and read a book. Playing video games does not elicit the same response. While many of the games have a plot and dialogue, the brain is not as active as it is when reading. Then someone plays a video game, their focus is on winning the game or completing a certain task. It doesn’t light up the brain as reading does. Reading will also lower blood pressure and heart rate. Reading exercises the frontal lobe of the brain. This is extremely important because of all the functions the frontal lobe handles. Things like speech, grammar fluency, and voluntary movement. The frontal lobe is also where executive functions such as planning, organizing, and control to meet a goal are developed. The brain’s response to gaming is the opposite of reading.
I have heard that some people aren’t “readers”. I’m not sure what that means. Does that mean they are unable to read? Or simply unwilling? Even a few minutes a day can bolster your brain and improve your mental health. Find an author or genre you enjoy and read for half an hour a day. I highly recommend shutting down all electronics a half hour before bed and reading.
I’ve heard some people say they don’t like to read. I can’t understand that sentiment, personally. There is never enough reading time in the day for me. I come from a family of readers and have been around people reading and ignoring each other my whole life. But the readers in my life are the most emotionally balanced, logical thinking, and thoughtful people. They are calm, collected, and intelligent. So I pose the question, if something is easy to do (you don’t have to get out of bed to do it), and will boost your frontal lobe functions, improve mental health, and help you to live longer, then why wouldn’t you want to do it? By the way, March is National Reading Month in honor of Dr. Seuss. Why not celebrate the month and the author by creating a new habit.
Read. Read. Read some more.
Photo courtesy of Ivan Tamas from Pixabay