FALLBROOK – It can be hard for some people to pick up a book when there are so many distractions at the ready. But while books might not be as flashy as the latest must-have digital gadget, they can provide benefits that might surprise even the most avid readers.
In addition to the intellectual benefits of reading, indulging in a good book can also boost physical health. According to Ken Pugh, PhD, president and director of research at Haskins Laboratories, which is devoted to the science of language, when a person is reading “parts of the brain that have evolved for other functions connect in a specific neural circuit for reading, which is very challenging.” Just like muscles in the body, the brain benefits when it is pushed beyond its normal abilities, and reading is a great way to push those limits.
But the benefits of reading do not stop there. Reading can help reduce stress, benefiting the body in numerous ways. A 2009 University of Sussex study found that turning to a good book can be an effective relaxation strategy when things become too stressful. Reading fiction can stimulate the imagination and distract a person from the stressors in everyday life. Choosing a humorous or uplifting story can boost mood and help people relax, particularly when reading before bedtime.
Reading also can help men and women get a better night’s rest. People who are accustomed to reading books before going to bed actually train their mind and body for relaxation. Picking up a book can send signals that it is time to settle down and get ready for sleep. Health experts often recommend developing a sleep routine to people who struggle to fall asleep at night, and reading for 30 minutes before bed each night can be an integral part of such routines.
Research has shown that reading and engaging the brain in other ways, such as through intellectual games and puzzles, can stave off dementia. These activities stimulate the cells in the brain to grow and connect, increasing the power of brain tissue. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, keeping the mind active through reading can strengthen connections between brain cells and build up brain cell reserves. Mental activity might even generate new brain cells. All of these factors can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
According to a paper from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, reading can stimulate the brain to produce more white matter. White matter works together with gray matter and is responsible for sending sensory and motor stimuli to the central nervous system to stimulate a response. Healthy white matter keeps the central nervous system working effectively and may reduce risk of learning disabilities as well as impaired motor functions.