How often do you read? For the purpose of this discussion, scrolling Facebook for an hour each day doesn’t count. Yes, it’s technically “reading” but we’re talking about “reading-reading.” When is the last time you read a book? Illiteracy is a serious problem in this country. It’s a fact that people who learn to read at an early age (5-7) and those who learn later (7-9) will wind up reading at approximately the same skill level (on average) by ages 13-15. To boost brain health, reading has to be an integral part of your life. The skill level is not as much a focus as the process is.
The act of reading affects your brain in so many ways. The brains of illiterate people actually look and function differently that brains of those who are literate! Reading is about so much more than just reading. It’s difficult to boost brain health if you can’t/don’t/won’t read. It has a significant impact on your ability to verbally and visually process information. (This may be one of many reasons that children who struggle to learn to read often have trouble in other academic subjects as well.)
Here’s how reading can boost brain health
When you read, various parts of your brain are activated and begin to communicate with each other. Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University determined that 100 hours of intensive reading instruction improved the health of white matter in the brains of children that were compromised. The study included control groups comprised of children who were good readers and also a select number of poor readers. Neither control group received the intensive reading instruction. The white matter in the brains of the students in the control groups remained unchanged. In the treatment group, however, the white matter’s ability to transmit signals improved.
White matter basically sends signals to various areas of grey matter in your brain, so the grey matter areas can communicate with each other. It is often compromised in the brains of people who are struggling readers or are illiterate. Those who conducted the study consider their findings a major breakthrough in the ability to understand and treat developmental problems.
What about pre-written language days?
It’s a fact that humans have only been writing and reading for about 5,000 years or so. Yet, people prior to that time had functional brains. That doesn’t mean, however, that had such people been able to receive intensive reading instruction, their brain function might not have improved. Other studies have shown that reading is a great form of stress relief, more so, even, than music. Research suggests that a mere six minutes of reading can reduce muscle tension and slow your heart rate.
The active engagement of your brain as you process words on a written page spark an altered state of consciousness. Not only can this relieve stress, it can boost brain health. Do you know that people who read a lot of fiction books are typically more empathetic than those who don’t? No matter what genre of book you read, you can improve memory and vocabulary skills in the process.
Boost brain health AND sleep better
Not only can reading boost brain health, if you read before going to bed at night, you’re likely to sleep better! It’s important to note, however, that you should read from an actual hard copy book at night as opposed to something on a screen. This is especially true for children! Studies show kids get nearly a half hour less sleep if they read from or sleep near electronic devices with screens. It’s best to store your devices in another room when you sleep.
At this time, families all across the country are at home due to a national crisis that has prompted a quarantine. It’s a perfect time to read. Better yet, why not restore family read aloud time if you don’t typically do that in your household? There are so many great classics available that are fun to read out loud. You’ll no doubt notice even your oldest kids and your spouse edging nearer and nearer to to hear the stories. Family read aloud time is fun to do by a campfire as well! Not only can you boost brain health, you can make wonderful memories together, too.
Try it for a few months and see what happens
If you’re not usually an avid reader, give it a try for several months to see how it goes. You might be surprised to feel better rested, more energetic and alert, and able to focus on a given task or process information more easily. If you have a child or grown loved one who is a struggling reader or has never learned to read, there are many resources available to help. It’s never too late to learn to read if a person is of sound mind, and it’s always a good idea to boost brain health.
If you’re already an avid reader, what are some of your favorite books or authors? Does your family read aloud together? Share your favorite titles in the comments! By the way, after you get done reading for the day, you might want to write someone a letter, or in a journal, or maybe try your hand at poetry because the process of writing with pen on paper is also good for your brain health. Read more about that, here!