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Were you one of those kids who gobbled up books like candy? Or did you only read under the duress of a school assignment or parental insistence? Either way, if you’re like many people I know, you set aside serious reading (as opposed to news articles, social media or work-required material) by middle age. As our careers, kids and other interests take precedence, most of us decide that we’re too busy to spare precious time for consistent reading. After years of heavy reading in high school and college, some of us just felt overloaded. And so, we decided, as independent adults, to exercise our right to refrain for a little while. However, that little while can turn into a long while.
The good news is that reading has never been more convenient. In addition to tried and true hardcovers and paperbacks, e-books are easily accessible for instant downloading. If reading in an armchair isn’t for you, and you prefer to be out and about, there are always classic venues like public libraries or parks. There are also more cafés available to us today than ever before.
For seniors, it’s never too late to take up reading again and reap all the benefits it brings. If you’re already in the habit, continue that path. Here are just a few ways that reading improves not only our health but also the quality of our life:
In a culture obsessed with multi-tasking, getting absorbed in a good book is the perfect way to expand your attention span. Concentration skills are significantly boosted by the mental focus that reading requires—as opposed to more passive activities (like watching television).
A well-written story gives your brain lots to remember: numerous characters, backstories, the setting and environment, sub-plots and more. Each memory you make forges new pathways in the brain and
strengthens existing ones, assisting with short-term memory and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
Delayed onset of dementia
Researchers have discovered that engaging in reading or playing mentally challenging games strengthens the brain’s neural network. This reserve of neuronal connections provide a longer lead time before the symptoms
of dementia begin to emerge.
Sharpened decision-making skills
Daily reading improves analytical and reasoning power, known as fluid intelligence, otherwise declining throughout adulthood. These skills can easily translate to everyday situations. Mystery novels are an obvious example, delivering pieces of the plot one by one, requiring
your brain to assemble them in anticipation of the ending. Also, frequent readers are more likely to think before they react and therefore less likely to make sudden, impulsive decisions.
Reduced stress levels
This thoughtful approach often makes readers more open to change and new life situations. As a result, you may experience less anxiety over life’s uncertainties. Immersing yourself in an excellent book can divert your
attention from negative thoughts. This gives you a chance to decompress, resulting in a fresh, proactive approach for coping. Reading can also, in mere minutes, relax your heart rate and decrease muscle tension.
Reading provides details on topics that you may not have otherwise discovered. This increased knowledge better equips you to tackle certain obstacles. And it gives you interesting topics to discuss in social settings!
Novels provide exposure to new places, situations, beliefs and ideas—gradually strengthening your tendency to connect and empathize with others. Literature offers a means to relate to new people in real life
too! For example, you could join a book club (often hosted by libraries, bookstores and social groups), which will allow you to converse with others over an established common topic.
If you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or getting quality sleep, the relaxing effects of reading can help with all three. In this case, it’s especially important to avoid e-readers because using electronic devices before bed can actually keep you awake and negatively impact the quality of your sleep.
Increased life satisfaction
Research has shown that adults who read just 30 minutes per week feel significantly more satisfied with their lives than those who don’t. Enjoying the pleasure that comes from a great read can make a big difference in
how you reflect back on your day.
Whether you’re a lifelong bookworm or just getting back into the healthy habit of reading, you can forge ahead knowing that it provides so much more than entertainment. Reading could even be adding high-quality
years to your life!
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