For many of us, there’s nothing quite like getting lost in a good book; reading can transport us to another world, providing an escape from life’s everyday stresses, at least temporarily. But increasingly, researchers are finding that reading may offer some very real benefits for health and well-being.

More than 75 per cent of American adults report reading at least one book in the past year. In August, Medical News Today reported on a study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine that claimed reading books could increase lifespan.

Led by researchers from Yale University School of Public Health, the study revealed that adults who reported reading books for more than 3½ hours per week were 23 per cent less likely to die over 12 years of follow-up, compared with those who did not read books.

While the researchers were unable to pinpoint the precise mechanisms by which reading may boost longevity, they pointed to previous studies that found reading can increase connectivity between brain cells, possibly lowering the risk of neurodegenerative diseases that can shorten lifespan.

Given that more than 75 per cent of American adults have read at least one book in the past year, any reports of the associated health benefits are likely to be welcome news.

If you are in the remaining 25 per cent of people who find reading a chore, perhaps learning more about how it could improve health and well-being will encourage you to shun the TV for the library.

1) Reading can reduce stress

Stress is believed to contribute to around 60 per cent of all human illness and disease; it can raise the risks of stroke and heart disease by 50 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively.

Of course, day-to-day life makes it impossible to eliminate stress completely, but there are things we can do to reduce stress and stop it from becoming a serious health issue. One strategy is reading.

According to a 2009 study conducted by the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, reading can reduce stress levels by as much as 68 per cent, even more than listening to music or going for a walk.

Study co-author Dr. David Lewis, a neuropsychologist at Mindlab International at Sussex, and colleagues found that participants who engaged in just 6 minutes of reading – whether a newspaper or a book – experienced a slowed heart rate and reduced muscle tension.

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.

This is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination, as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.” Dr. David Lewis

These findings are unlikely to come as a surprise to the bookworms out there; a study conducted by researchers from the University of Liverpool in the U.K. earlier this year found that 38 per cent of adults class reading as their “ultimate stress remedy”.

“Whilst the cumulative societal benefits of reading have been widely acknowledged, it’s important also to recognize the gains to be had from reading on our personal health and well-being”, notes study researcher Dr Josie Billington.

2) Reading can slow cognitive decline

As we age, our brain slows down, and cognitive tasks that we may have once found easy, such as remembering a name or a house number, may become more challenging.

But according to a number of studies, reading could help slow down or even prevent cognitive decline, and it may even help stave 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.

For their research, lead author Robert S. Wilson, of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, and team enrolled 294 adults of an average age of 89.

Every year for an average of 6 years before their death, the participants completed a number of memory and thinking tests. They also completed a questionnaire detailing any mentally stimulating activities they engaged in during childhood, adolescence, middle age, and in later life.

From analyzing the brains of participants after their death, the researchers found that those who engaged in reading, writing, and other mentally stimulating activities in early and late-life were less likely to show physical evidence of dementia, such as brain lesions, plaques, and tangles.

“Based on this, we shouldn’t underestimate the effects of everyday activities, such as reading and writing, on our children, ourselves and our parents or grandparents”, Wilson comments.

The results support those of an earlier study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which found older adults who read, play chess, and participate in other mentally challenging activities were 2½ times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

To be continued…

CREDIT: Medical News Today

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