Health Check / Reading your way to wellness
WESTPORT — My primary New Year’s resolution for this year is to read more. I’m not quite sure how this goal emerged at the forefront of my list of resolutions, but I think it had to do with a subconscious understanding that by reading more, some of my other health aims, to be less stressed and more creative, for example, would follow suit.
Turns out, research substantiates the health benefits of reading. Regular reading throughout life can slow cognitive and memory decline in ones later years according to a 2013 study in the journal Neurology. Reading exercises the brain and prevents it from becoming inactive, which can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, another study found.
Even more convincingly, a University of Sussex study from 2009 found that just six minutes of continuous reading can reduce stress levels by up to 68 percent, which the study is even more than the stress reduction gained from taking a walk or listening to music.
“It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination,” said neuropsychologist Dr. David Lewis, one of the researchers on the study.
Nonfiction has always been my first love, but in a reading rut last year I found I was resistant to pick up a nonfiction book at the end of a long day because I instinctively felt it could not take me out my journalism-centered life and allow me to lose myself in the way Dr. Lewis says is necessary for stress relief.
In fiction, on the other hand, I can more easily enter a world outside my own and relax. A study in the journal science found fiction can add even deeper value to your life than just relaxation.
“Understanding others’ mental states is a crucial skill that enables the complex social relationships that characterize human societies,” the article research says. This skill, known as Theory of Mind, is enhanced more when a person reads literary fiction than when he or she consumes nonfiction or nothing at all, the research shows.
With these benefits in mind, putting ourselves in the shoes of others with a good novel may, in 2019, be the best argument for not only our own personal health, but also the health of our country and world.
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