On the science of reading

Like most people, I go through ups and downs with my ability to engage with reading. Partly this is exacerbated by ADD, but it’s good now and then to remind myself that there are quantifiable physical benefits as well as the more esoteric intellectual ones.

Reading has been proven to aid depression, whether the affected person reads in their head, or whether someone reads aloud. Sufferers report feeling more optimistic after reading or being read to. Where a low level of intervention is the best option for a mental health patient, things like self-help books have a double benefit – the patient benefits from the advice in the book, but they also benefit from the reading itself. Giving someone suffering from a mental health problem, the joy of reading could genuinely save a life, and many patients offered self-help books would not be readers otherwise.

The human brain functions similarly to a muscle in that the more active your brain is, the better. This is especially true in older people, who are at risk of mental decline, memory loss, and Alzheimer’s, but the effects of reading will carry through your whole life. Getting a reading habit as a young adult (or even younger) can decrease your chances of Alzheimer’s later. Regular brain activity, like reading, puzzles, or strategy games can reduce the mental decline by 32%.

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