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Stuck at home: Eight reasons to make reading a habit for life

Despite all the distractions the digital world has brought us, reading and books have survived.


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Perhaps not surprising at all, reading holds quite remarkable benefits — aside from being a great way to pass the time and relax.

The benefits or reading are many, but let’s start with a quote by the well-known 18th Century English essayist, poet and playwright, Joseph Addison:

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.”

This quote has become justly famous, not least because it has an unmistakable ring of truth to it. What exercise will do for the body, reading does for the brain.

It enriches the mind with new thoughts, knowledge, and ideas. It challenges our perspectives and preconceptions, and dares us to step out of our mental comfort zones. It stimulates our imaginations by taking us on wonderful mental journeys that will expand our horizons.

Simply put, engaging with a good book is the best workout your brain can have.

Worried about developing Alzheimer’s and dementia in later life? Reading lowers that risk

This holds true even if diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia run in your family. Studies conducted in Chicago at the Rush University Medical Center established that people who read and subject their brains to mental challenges are likely to stave off memory loss and mental decline longer than people who don’t.

Researchers believe this is because reading actually helps build vital connections between the brain cells, thus keeping the brain more resilient. So grab that good book today — it’s excellent brain food.

Reading can help you fall asleep faster, and even sleep better

These days many people find it extremely difficult to switch off and fall asleep when they go to bed at night. Studies have shown that reading a book at bedtime helps prepare the brain for sleep.

The bright light of computer and TV screens have an impact on the body’s production of melatonin, interfering with the body’s biological clock. As melatonin is vital for normal sleep, this has a negative impact on your sleep cycle.

In a nutshell, staring at bright, backlit computer and TV screens suggests to your brain that it is still daytime, so it doesn’t move towards sleep mode. However, reading a book before bedtime helps your brain by allowing it to escape to a different reality, thus preparing it not just for sleep, but for deeper and more rejuvenating REM sleep.

Good sleep helps you deal with life better by making you feel more alert and positive. And guess what? Sleeping well might even make it easier to lose weight.

Reading with your kids will give them a head start in life

For the sake of your kids, start reading to them. A study published in 2019 using MRI scans showed that reading to children under five resulted in larger amounts of white matter (which is required for language development) in their brains.

On the strength of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics actually released guidelines recommending that parents start reading to their child from infancy. Pamela High, the lead author, points out that reading to and with kids is not just a joyous event that will promote a close and loving relationship, but will actively help with their language development.

Children who read on a regular basis with their parents score higher on literacy tests. It can even improve their IQs by as much as six points, thus serving them well throughout their lives.

Reading will help you live longer

Now there’s a turn-up for the books! As indicated in the by-now-famous 2016 Yale University study, people who read books regularly live longer than their non-reading peers. And not by negligible amounts either — we’re talking about close on two years here.

Book readers can expect to live an impressive 23 months longer than non-readers. So by all accounts, it’s hard to find better medicine for your brain.

Reading boosts not only general knowledge, but also vocabulary

In virtually every book you read, you’re almost guaranteed to come across an idea, concept, word or turn of phrase that is new to you. Likewise, you are almost certain to learn something that you didn’t know.

Reading is an ongoing learning process that happens painlessly and effortlessly as your vocabulary and general knowledge grows. Being exposed to good writing will also mean that your own writing skills and the way you express yourself will improve. And that’s useful in all walks of life.

Reading will improve your emotional IQ (EQ)

Books, by their very nature, demand that you as the reader engage with the emotions of the characters in the book. This not only builds compassion and tolerance, but develops insight and empathy. The book asks you to put yourself in the characters’ shoes and see the world through their eyes. This can be extraordinarily enlightening.

If the character lives a very different life from yours, and maybe adheres to a very different system of beliefs, it can give you insights that you might never have had. If the character finds him or herself in a similar situation to yourself, you might suddenly see why you may be finding things so difficult. It might even suggest how you could better address your own situation.

Many famous people have emphasized how much reading has meant to them. Barack Obama states roundly that he thinks that he has learned the most important things in life from books. Mahatma Gandhi, Bill Gates, and Winston Churchill would seem to be of similar mind.

Reading helps with depression and anxiety

The idea of reading as therapy is not a new one, but it is gaining new ground. Even doctors are giving it some credence these days, and recommending it to patients. By highlighting a character who is in a similar situation, a book can make it clear to a troubled or depressed reader that they are not alone in having this problem.

Similarly, reading about the healing process that a character in a book goes through can be very cathartic to a reader who is in a similar predicament.

And finally — reading will be your faithful friend for life

Reading will be a source of enjoyment, knowledge, relaxation, pleasure, comfort, delight, learning, travel, company, (you name it!), for the rest of your life. You won’t have to “retire” from reading if your knees pack up, or your wonky shoulder makes it impossible to swing a tennis racquet or a golf club.

You won’t need to be rich to do it either — libraries are a wonderful resource that is there for all of us. And the fantastic books just keep coming to stand right alongside the great classics from the past. So dig in!