How Reading Makes You Healthier

Reading stories has been around for a long time. In spite of news about dwindling reading skills, people, millions of them still read.

In societies where reading was difficult because of illiteracy or lack of books, the village square was always the place to gather and listen to the latest stories about life.

People need stories. In spite of the many ways in which story can be delivered, video, film, or audio, reading a book is considered to be the healthiest way for us to benefit from a story.

According to a study carried out in the University of Sussex, UK, just reading for 6 minutes can have an immediate effect on stress levels.

Reading a book can reduce tension by two thirds, and is considered to be better than music — which can cause an increase in tension.

It’s not about how many books you can read in a year, but what you are reading that seems to make all the difference.

If you read for at least 3.5 hours a week, and your reading material is a novel rather than a newspaper or magazine/blog article, then your health benefits more than those who only read text messages, and snippets of information regularly.

Most researchers discovered that because a good book will transport the mind away from its immediate environment, it will relax more rapidly and tension and stress levels will drop automatically.

Some research says that reading, and the state of mind achieved through reading a novel, is similar to when you are under hypnosis. The mind becomes introverted but focused and highly aware of the story line.

People who read increase their cognitive abilities, and increase their vocabulary according to the type of novel they read.

Speed reading decreases the learning outcomes of vocabulary and cognitive skills.

Basically, the only benefit of speed reading is that you get a sort of “cliff-notes” version of the story, but not the relaxation and full enjoyment of it.

Empathy and Reading

Printed words wrapped up in attractive looking jackets promise a peek into a distant world of escapism and can act like a magnet to the story hungry mind.

Most people who love to read know what they want. They look out for books and characters who they can relate to, and route for during highly emotional passages of the story.

Reading and following the exploits of your character can enhance empathy and encourage it to grow.

Empathy is when we spend more energy on considering the other person’s needs than our own.

In psychological studies people showing high empathy during conversations show high activity in the specific parts of the brain that deal with empathy. Interestingly, when empathy is lit-up during interactions and reading, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex which controls self seeking actions and selfish thought is partially or completely shut down.

Psychologists studying readers while they engaged in their favourite books, saw that they showed facial expressions that exhibited empathy, fear, dislike and various other emotional expressions during reading fiction.

Reading can Boost Your Creativity and Flexibility of Mind

Enjoyment and escapism is on the agenda for most book readers, but writers who read often can’t help but notice the rhythms and flow of a story told so well.

It’s how writers learn their trade and skill. To notice the cadence in a sentence that makes the heart quicken, is a pleasure.

Reading stories opens us up to many possibilities, the sudden changes in narrative, or even the death of character.

We instinctively know that this is how stories work, so our mind is always open to unexpected options in the next paragraph.

Avid readers who were tested on their ability to make quick decisions showed that they had less of a problem with deciding on an outcome than people who didn’t read often.

The ability to make decisions is closely related to memory and creative thinking. Reading increases the activity in our memories, we need to keep an eye on who is doing what in the narrative of a novel.

This type of skill is essential to being able to understand a long story, so when something unexpected happens in the story, we can slot several ideas together, that the author set us up for earlier on, and make sense of the event in the book.

This happens because memory is being used all of the time while we read.

Reading a book, fiction or non fiction, increases our knowledge of people, life, and the world. Many authors do their research and they take it very seriously.

They don’t want savvy readers to catch them out on facts about a place or an event.

Reading a novel can inspire a person to investigate deeper into a subject that was only lightly touched on in a novel. Reading crime, horror and sci-fi can cause a reader to become interested in related subjects.

Some stories read quickly, and you’re finished in two days and a sitting. Some take weeks to get through, and there are many reasons why.

There are studies which suggest reading helps a person to sleep better at night.

Written by

Berlin Notes — Writing about the Creative Art of Living

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