Reading Does More Than Exercise Your Brain — It’s Also Good for Your Physical Health

October 24, 2023

Depending on where you live, October may have you enjoying day trips to take in the majesty of fall foliage, pulling your sweaters and coats out of storage, visiting a local pumpkin patch or, at the very least, savoring a warm, spiced beverage.

October is also National Book Month, so it’s the perfect time to settle into a cozy seat and enjoy a good read with that cup of coffee, cider or tea. Along with being a pleasant pastime, reading is associated with health benefits, both mental and physical.

While people of all ages can experience the health benefits of reading, research suggests older adults may gain the most from making time to read.

What If You’ve Never Been a Bookworm?

While some people develop a love of reading in childhood, others can go for decades without so much as touching a book. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t read a book in years — it’s not too late to start a healthy reading habit.

And, you don’t have to read for hours on end. Even reading for 20 to 30 minutes several times a week, will give your brain a boost and help you relax, leading to additional advantages for your physical health.

It doesn’t matter if you read literary classics, whodunnit novels or a book on how to write books. The point is to find something that will be interesting enough to engage your mind.

Not ready to tackle reading an entire book? You could start with a collection of short stories. Or newspapers and magazines that focus on topics you find interesting. All of these can bestow the benefits of reading.

If you’re not sure where to start, choose a subject you’d like to know more about, go online and do a search to see what’s available. You may be amazed by the possibilities!

What Benefits Does Reading Have?

Let’s start with what seems most obvious: how reading benefits your brain.

It can preserve and potentially sharpen your decision-making skills.

Reading has been shown to improve the brain’s ability to analyze and reason — processes we use to interpret and respond to complex information. These problem-solving processes tend to decline in our later years, making it more challenging to navigate unfamiliar situations. Reading on a regular basis can help diminish the decline.

It can enhance your memory.

As most older adults can attest, age typically affects one’s memory. The extent varies from one person to the next, and many factors play a role. Still, there are steps you can take — such as reading — to forestall memory loss.

When you’re reading a novel, for example, you use episodic memory to remember what happened in chapters you’ve already read. You also use working memory to keep track of what’s going on as you read new paragraphs and integrate that information into what you’ve already read. Together, these two memory processes help you make sense of the story as it unfolds.

In a study conducted at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, researchers found that older adults (ages 60-79) who read for pleasure 90 minutes a day, five days a week, for eight weeks showed significant improvements in working and episodic memory when compared with adults of a similar age who did word puzzles instead of reading.

It can potentially stave off dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Research suggests that reading regularly in one’s earlier years helps build a “reserve” of neuronal connections. Because it takes the processes involved in Alzheimer’s disease longer to destroy the neurons in this reserve, symptoms do not emerge as quickly as they would without the reserve.

Reading has been shown to preserve brain structures vital to cognition in older adults, and it appears to lower the risk of developing dementia even after the age of 65. In a five-year study conducted in Hong Kong involving more than 15,000 seniors, those who engaged in intellectual activities such as reading were less likely to develop dementia when compared with those who did not engage in such activities.

More Health Benefits of Reading

Absorbing your attention in a book or magazine is good for your body as well as your mind. Reading can:

  • Lower stress. Researchers at Mindlab International at the University of Sussex found that just 6 minutes of reading a compelling book was sufficient to slow heart rates and ease muscle tension. Reading lowered stress more effectively than listening to music, going for a walk, taking a coffee or tea break, or playing video games.
  • Lower blood pressure and heart rate, leading to better cardiovascular health.
  • Reduce anxiety by providing a mental escape route. Getting lost in a book diverts your mind from whatever is causing you to feel anxious.
  • Improve sleep. Making reading a part of your regular bedtime routine signals to your brain that it’s time for sleep. But experts caution that when reading to fall asleep, it’s best to use a traditional book or magazine. The blue light electronic devices emit (including TVs, cellphones, electronic tablets and e-readers) can interfere with your ability to fall, and stay, asleep.

Tips to Make Reading for Elderly People Easier

Vision problems make reading difficult for some older adults. Fortunately, there are options — such as large-print books for seniors — that can make reading more enjoyable. For those who prefer to use an electronic reading device, a tablet or the computer, there’s usually a way to increase the word size on the screen.

Audiobooks are another alternative, though they may not benefit the brain as much as traditional reading materials. Another possibility is for someone to read aloud. This provides opportunities to discuss the book as it’s being read.

Need More Motivation? Join a Book Club!

If you’ve enjoyed reading in the past but haven’t made time for it lately, a trip to your local library or bookstore might be all you need to get back in the habit.

But if you already have books you’ve been meaning to read or other activities always seem to take priority, you might want to join or start a book club. Getting together with a group of people to talk about a book you’ve just read can make the effort more fun. You’ll have social connections to look forward to and a timeline for finishing the book. And who knows? You might even gain insights that wouldn’t have to occurred to you on your own.

We Support an Integrated Approach to Good Health

Our Zenergy Wellness Program centers on amenities and activities that nourish the mind, body and spirit. The lifestyle we offer at The Variel is designed to help you thrive by enhancing your quality of life.

We invite you to come see for yourself what a difference living at The Variel could make in your life. To arrange a one-on-one visit, contact us and we’ll set up a convenient time for you.

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