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Benefits of reading on our brains

Updated: May 24, 2022

Libraries have appropriately focused resources on childhood literacy. After all, story times are a great start to being interested in and learning to read. And that leads to success in school, life, and a love of reading.

So, on the other end of the age spectrum we have those successful readers who have kept reading as a pastime throughout the decades. Living near a good library like we do, access to reading material is free and available. We walk in and there they are – books, books, books. This is a feel good article for all those readers about the many benefits other than the sheer fun of it -- reading affords us, specifically, those people classified as “senior citizens.”

Many sources, from Healthline to Psychology Today should make us all feel better about all that time we are reading when we could be pulling weeds or dusting something. Here’s a short list of the benefits to us of reading:

o Improves brain connectivity;

o Increases vocabulary and comprehension;

o Increases empathy with others;

o Aids in getting to sleep;

o Reduces stress;

o Lowers blood pressure and heart rate;

o Reduces depression;

o Reduces cognitive decline;

o Increases our lifespan.

That seems like a great list – and it is. Most of it is self-explanatory. Some of it such as brain connectivity is based on neuroscience. But there is some additional information about all this that is very affirming to most of us.

First, the benefits of all this reading are cumulative. Thus, starting when we are old enough for Story Time and then reading decade after decade gives us lifetime benefits. Rather than those benefits waning, they just increase the more we read.

That contributes to reducing cognitive decline that we associate with aging. No one is saying that there won’t be contributing health issues that contribute to such decline, but reading can stave off cognitive decline and at least push it back or lessen the impact. That’s powerful. Not only that, but readers live on average two years longer than non-readers. That fact is out there without explanation. We could all take our best guesses.

Does it matter what we read to get all these benefits? Yes, it does. Evidence shows that for the best effects of reading as we age, we should be reading “literary fiction,” in other words fiction. There’s nothing wrong with hanging around non-fiction books, but it’s fiction that works the magic on our brains. Luckily for us, fiction comes in a wide variety, something for everyone. Fiction encourages open minds while giving us an added edge on processing new information.

Neuroscientists find that consistently reading over time has the very same brain activity as the creation of muscle memory in sports.

In addition to reading novels, we should also at least occasionally read an actual paper book. (This one is killing me because I’m such a dedicated Kindle reader due to adjusting the font. But ok. I do like to pluck one off the ten-day shelves now and again.)

Read novels now and again with more complicated plots. Read novels now and again that are a different genre than the ones you normally gravitate to. All these tips increase our use of reading to improve cognitive functioning.

Statistics on the number of people who read novels for pleasure after they are no longer required for their education (high school or college) vary greatly depending on what source you think is most reliable. The numbers are so varied, I don’t trust any enough to print them without a lot more research. But it’s enough to know that reading is one of the best things we can do for ourselves all through our lives. It helps us keep our brains in shape, and it even makes us better people.

See you at the Library!

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