The Power of Reading
If you’re someone who adores reading, you will agree there is something exhilarating about strolling leisurely through the aisles of a library or used bookstore. Ah, there's nothing like the aroma of much-loved paperbacks crammed next to each other on wooden shelves; or the sound of the slippery cover of a best-seller, just before you crack the spine for the very first time. I have to admit that I'm still not sold on tablets such as Kindle or Kobo or the many available apps like Yomu EBook or Wattpad. I realize I may be aging myself, but for me it’s just not the same.
Whether it be fiction or non-fiction, there are so many rewards to reading. I still recall the times when as a teenager, I was scootched under the covers with a flashlight to finish whatever page-turner I was reading at the time. When the other kids got together outside to go skating or tobogganing on a cold blistery winter day, I was the one curled up under a cozy throw with a good book.
But the benefits of reading go beyond being magically transported into another world. As any fellow booklover will tell you, reading offers both health and happiness. They are our trusted friends, never failing to provide comfort when going through difficult times. Simply seeing a favourite author’s name or book title along the spine, can bring on warm, comforting waves of nostalgia.
The emotions attached to the very act of reading are pure gold. Books make you smile and cry and belly-laugh out loud. You become invested in the characters; outraged by the action of one, overwhelmed with a desire to hold and comfort the broken heart of another, only to find yourself shaking your head in disbelief when the heroine once again makes a decision getting her deeper into trouble. True enchantment.
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…
the man who never reads lives only one.”
– George R.R. Martin, Novelist and TV Producer
A Song of Ice and Fire Series (Game of Thrones)
People read for many different reasons: to relax, to escape, to learn, to discover, or to educate. Whether you’re looking for self-discovery, self-improvement or simple motivation. Reading checks all those boxes like no other activity.
I regularly hear people say, "I don’t read". They must, I conclude, be referring to books. Because the truth is people read all the time. Magazines in waiting rooms or at the hairdresser, recipes on Pinterest, blogs and newsletters on the internet, and phone blurb alerts which never fails to take one down a rabbit hole of relevant and not so relevant information.
We live in a day and age where if you are really keen on learning more about something, it is all available on the world wide web. In fact, too much information sometimes. This process of reading may be a different attitude and approach, but many of the benefits remain the same. You still need to be able to comprehend what you read.
Here are just some of the benefits of reading:
Improved physical health. Reading has been shown to lower your blood pressure and heart rate.
Mental stimulation. We know that keeping your mind sharp can slow down cognitive decline in the future. The act of reading involves a complex network of circuits and signals in the brain. The more you read, the stronger those networks become. Just like any other muscle, the brain requires exercise to remain healthy and strong. My last blog goes into much greater detail on brain health.
Enhances comprehension and improves memory. In order to follow along a specific storyline, you need to remember an assortment of characters and their varying personalities and backgrounds. In addition, there are plots and sub-plots to keep straight. Every memory you create, forges new synapses (brain pathways) and strengthens the existing ones. This process assists in the recall of short-term memory. The caveat is you must remain focused. The reader needs to be absorbed in the book without distraction in order to gain the physical benefits of brain health. Note: people who read print books score consistently higher on comprehension and memorization tests than those reading in a digital format.
Improves focus. When immersed in a good book, or an engaging article, it becomes a single-task endeavour, and your attention is on the words you are reading.
Strengthens analytical thinking skills. As you read, your brain deciphers and predicts ‘who dunnit’, deduces the plot, analysis the storyline and critiques characterization, all while determining if the book is a dud, even though it is on the New York Times’ Best Seller List.
Knowledge. Whenever you read your brain gathers bits of information and tucks it away for later. It also allows you to communicate with others on a variety of topics, including the book.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know.
The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
– Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss),
Children’s Author, Illustrator, Cartoonist
Numerous publications. Two of his most famous are:
Expands vocabulary. The more you read, the more words you are exposed to. The more frequently you see the word, the more prone you are to use it in your day-to-day speech.
Improves writing. You simply know more. When you admire a certain author, you automatically pay attention to their writing styles – their rhythm and word fluency.
Heightens empathy. Research has shown that people who read, (literary fiction more so than non-fiction), demonstrate an increased ability to understand the feelings and beliefs of others. This is because they put themselves in someone else's shoes and in doing so are able to relate better to others.
Improves mental health – not only can the experience of reading be calming, but the subject itself can provide inner peace and soothe the soul.
Reduces stress. A 2009 study completed on students enrolled in a stringent health science program, measured the act of reading against yoga and humour. The results showed that reading for just 30 minutes a day was as effective in reducing psychological distress as yoga and humour.
"Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation.
This is particularly poignant in uncertain economic times
when we are all craving a certain amount of escapism.
It really doesn't matter what book you read,
by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book
you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world
and spend a while exploring the domain of the author's imagination."
– Dr. David Lewis, Cognitive Neuropsychologist, Author, Lecturer
Founder and Director of Mindlab International
Enhances sleep. Reading before bed can help you switch off your mind from the stresses of the day – just make sure that in this case it is a print book and not from a screen. I personally can’t fall asleep without first reading (always a novel; never non-fiction) – it is a nonnegotiable part of my evening ritual.
It’s free – don’t get me wrong, I love my little home library. But at some point, I had to admit to myself that I do not re-read books. I’m generally off to the next one. So, I began passing my fiction on to others so they could enjoy them. Libraries have books on every imaginable subject and get new stock in on a regular basis. That being said, I tend to keep my non-fiction, and any book that was bestowed to me as a personal gift. Other than that, I am in the library, thrift stores or second-hand bookstores – an absolute treasure trove for any bookworm. In addition, there are many online sources where you can download e-books for free. Two I hear good things about are Project Gutenberg and BookBub.
When I talk about reading, often people will tell me they wished they read more, but when it comes down to it, they just don't have the time. They are simply too busy to read. Does this sound like you? Here are a few tips you can use if you would truly like to make reading a part of your day:
Take something to read with you wherever you go and read instead of checking your email when you’re stuck waiting in line somewhere. Access to books today is unparalleled. You can read from your phone, your laptop or tablet. You can listen on your commute to and from work, while exercising, or doing chores around the house. Or you can do it the old-fashioned way – carry a book with you. As Stephen King says:
“Books are uniquely portable magic.”
Stephen King, Author, Personal Hero/Mentor, overall Grand Poobah
Numerous publications, but many say The Stand is his best work.
Ask for recommendations and suggestions from friends and family. There are so many books, and I hate wasting time. At one point I swore I would never just pick up a book because I liked the cover again! Now, I will only read what’s been recommended to me. At my local library they have a program called: “May We Suggest”. I completed a quick survey and in a couple of days I received a list from Jesse advising me on books that may be of interest to me. When I’ve gone through my own list, I go to hers and pick one out. She knows me well enough now that she doesn’t wait for me to reach out. Suddenly there's an email in my inbox that says: “Thought of you with this one…”
Take stock of what you really enjoy, what you were super interested in, or had a passion for when you were younger. You may not be aware that your niche genre exists. People write about absolutely everything these days. There are how-to and self-help books on every imaginable topic. Whether it’s the classics, historical fiction or poetry; spiritual, motivational or theology; art, zebras, clowning, or true crime; business, relationships, or communication; fashion, autobiographies or young adult; horror, romance or suspense etc. etc. etc. I promise you it’s out there.
“If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.”
– J. K. Rowling, Author, Philanthropist, Producer
Harry Potter Series
Get creative about setting time aside in your schedule and then commit to it. Build the habit of reading ten to fifteen minutes in the morning, or during your lunch hour, and of course, before bed (see above). Take an honest look at how you spend your time, and you will begin to see the opportune moments in your day. How many minutes (or more) do you spend scrolling through your phone; how many hours do you spend gazing at the television? Everyone is busy, and you may not be able to find a solid hour, or even twenty minutes. But you may be able to find ten, and that’s what I call a good start. Just be sure the book is near at hand. If you waste five minutes looking for something to read, then chances are you will not follow through.
The effects of reading are cumulative, so the younger you are when you start, the better. However, it’s never too late. If you’ve been thinking about reading more, do it for the health of it. If you’re younger children tend not to be readers, studies suggest that reading to them out loud may inspire them to read more.
“Reading should not be presented to children as a chore, or a duty. It should be offered as a gift.”
– Kate DiCamillo,
Flora & Ulysses and
Speaking of reading out loud. Did you know it is the best way to remember what you read? This is an effective strategy because it creates associative memory by generating auditory links into our memory pathways (very effective when studying).
Remove distractions. Especially the blips and pings of your phone or tablet telling you someone has just sent you a texted or email.
Join a book club – some people need a deadline. This may be just what you need to make sure you get some reading time in.
Enjoy the process. If you’re reading just because you feel you need to read more, it won’t last. Just like exercise. You need to bring the joy into the act of reading, or it will not be anything more than a check mark on your to-do list. And life is too short for that.
Hopefully I have intrigued you enough to carve some time out of your day to give reading a try. There is nothing better than closing the cover of a terrific book and wishing it could just go on forever.