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Reading improves health, well-being
November 21, 2016, 1:10 pm

For many people reading a book is often the perfect way to relax and release everyday stresses. New research reveals that reading offers some very real benefits for health and well-being; here are just five of them.

Reducing stress: Nearly two-third of all human illnesses and disease can be traced to or aggravated by stress; it raises the risk of stroke by 50 percent and that of heart disease by 40 percent. Studies have shown that reading can reduce stress by as much as 68 percent — this is higher than listening to music or going for a walk.

Researchers behind the study found that just six minutes of reading can help slow down heart rate and reduce muscle tension. “Reading is more than a simple distraction from real life, it involves active engagement of the imagination with the printed word stimulating creativity and causing an altered state of consciousness,” say the study authors.

Slowing cognitive decline: As we age, simple cognitive tasks that we once took for granted, such as remembering a name, a face or a phone number becomes more challenging.

New studies show that reading can help slow down or even prevent cognitive decline and may even help put off more severe forms of cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

In 2013, a study by researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IL - published in the journal Neurology - found that reading and other mentally stimulating activities may slow dementia.

From tracking around 300 adults, with average age of 89, for nearly six years and then analyzing their brain after death, the researchers found that those who engaged in reading, writing, and other mentally stimulating activities in early and late life showed less physical evidence of dementia, such as brain lesions, plaques, and tangles.

Improving sleep: For many people smartphone screens have replaced books as the source for bedtime reading. However, a study published earlier this year found that the light emitted from smartphones and other digital devices reduces the production of melatonin — the hormone that aids in the sleep process — thereby resulting in shorter sleep duration and poorer sleep quality. Meanwhile, reading a book in bed was found to promote better sleep by easing the transition between wakefulness and drowsiness.

Enhancing social skills: Reading has been shown to enhance social skills by broadening people’s views and increasing their ability to understand the beliefs, desires and thoughts of others. Studies have shown that individuals who regularly read score much higher in tests of empathy than non-readers and that those reading fiction score higher than those reading non-fiction.

One reason for this disparity between readers could be that fiction allows the reader to engage with the characters, which may lead to increased empathy with others in reality. As humans, our lives are social; we constantly make social arrangements with other people — with relatives, friends and even strangers we meet just once. Fiction can augment and help us understand our social experience.

Boosting intelligence: Studies have shown that reading can increase an individual's vocabulary, which has been linked with greater intelligence. Research has also linked stronger reading skills at a younger age with increased intelligence, with children having better reading skills by the age of 7 scoring higher on IQ tests than those with weak reading skills.

The study found that children who do not receive enough assistance in learning to read may also be missing out on the important, intelligence-boosting properties of literacy.

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