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Benefits of Reading

Reading is to brain what exercise is to body

By Eileen Roddy, Lawrence Journal World

December 1, 2008

When did you last curl up with a good book to unwind and enjoy some “me” time without feeling guilty? Reading and exercise are often shelved when we’re overburdened and stressed, yet research confirms both activities are vital for physical and mental well-being.

Reading is to the brain what physical exercise is to the body. When both activities are combined, they can help relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression and can improve overall health. Reading can also provide rejuvenation, inspiration and nourishment for the soul. It’s easier to serve others if you enjoy regular quiet time to delve into inspirational books and have your personal experience challenged, affirmed and uplifted.

Lawrence psychologist Kris Johnson acknowledges reading’s health benefits.

“Reading’s a good way to relax and explore the world,” she says. “It’s a good way for mothers of young children to temporarily escape life’s everyday stresses and maintain good mental health. People don’t take enough advantage of reading.”

Like many health professionals, Johnson uses books therapeutically.

“Those experiencing emotional challenges can read about someone with similar problems,” she says. “This can provide a good starting point to discuss possible solutions for their challenges.”

In Britain, some doctors prescribe self-help books for conditions such as anxiety, depression and tension-related backaches. The patient collects the “prescription” at the local library.

Maryanne Wolfe, director of Tufts University’s Center for Reading and Language Research and author of “Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain,” says brains are programmed to see, speak and think but not to read. Reading requires the brain to rearrange its original parts to learn something new. She quotes Marcel Proust, the French novelist: “The heart of the expert reading brain is to think beyond the decoded words to construct thoughts and insights never before held by that person, and in doing so, we are changed forever.”

According to researchers like Wolfe, reading keeps the memory sharp, increases its capacity to be nimble and makes the aging mind hardier.

Marion Willey, 81, an avid reader and member of the Lawrence Ladies Literary League, agrees with the experts.

“Reading’s kept my mind healthy,” she says. “It’s a restful escape to places I’ve never been. I’ve just finished Richard Preston’s ‘The Wild Trees’ about small animals living in huckleberry bushes growing on top of giant Californian redwood trees. Nobody knew of their existence until fairly recently. I’ll never be able to go there physically, but I’ve been able to go in my mind.”

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  1. SpinDiva says:

    This just so happens to be my goal for this year — to read more for pleasure. I wont put the pressure on myself to read a book in a certain period of time because with 4 kids, an impending military move, my job and school it really is difficult to fit that time in but my books come with me to Dr.’s appointment, swim lessons, and anywhere I might have to wait for anything. Of course, nothing beats reading for a good 1/2 hour just before bed. I agree, my brain needs a workout as much as my body.

  2. Spindiva – here’s a fun idea. When people want to give you a gift, have them give you babysitting so you can read all morning (or afternoon!). You could read, nap, read, nap. Doesn’t that sound divine! Cheryl

  3. SpinDiva says:

    Thank You Cheryl, that is a great idea. Another mom of two and I decided recently to exchange “quiet time”. She will bring her baby over for a few hours to play with mine and the next week is my turn. The beauty is that the kids play for about two hours then they go home for a nap so we get a solid 4 hours of quiet time with a quick break for lunch with the kids.

  4. WhooWhoo! You’re one smart momma :)

  5. […] delve into inspirational books and have your personal experience challenged, affirmed and uplifted. http://WWW.CHERLMILLERVILLE.COM Getty Images: RonTech2000 FAITH Researchers in the field of psychoneuroimmunology (mind/body […]

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