Reading Reduces Stress and Enhances Empathy.

Young woman lying on grass reading book.

Do you enjoy sitting down with a good book? This is one hobby you should feel free to indulge in without guilt, as reading is linked to a variety of benefits, both mental and physical. In fact, new research published in the journal Social Science & Medicine revealed book readers live an average of two years longer than non-readers. Specifically, compared to people who read no books, those who read for up to 3.5 hours a week had a 17 percent lower risk of dying over the next 12 years.

Those who read for more than 3.5 hours a week fared even better; they had a 23 percent lower risk of dying prematurely. Broken down, this means that reading for just 30 minutes a day may offer a major health advantage. This was true even after the researchers controlled for other factors that might influence lifespan, such as age, race, gender, education level, income, health, employment and more. Interestingly, reading newspapers and periodicals also offered longevity benefits, although not to the same extent as books.

Research conducted by cognitive neuropsychologists revealed that reading is a powerful form of stress relief. Volunteers had their stress levels and heart rates increased and then tried a variety of stress-reduction methods to relax. Reading worked best, outshining other stress-reduction techniques like listening to music, taking a walk or having a cup of tea. Stress levels declined by 68 percent after participants read for just six minutes.

When you read, your mind is distracted from everyday worries and anxiety, while your muscles tend to relax. In addition, research shows reading leads to improvements in brain function, including significant increases in connectivity that persist for several days after the reading takes place. In addition, reading literary fiction was shown to enhance a skill known as theory of mind, which is the ability to understand others’ mental states and show increased empathy.

Other research that used historical data on about 50,000 twins found that high levels of schooling (at least 13 years) are associated with three years longer life expectancy than low levels of schooling (less than 10 years).
In this case, it’s not reading, exactly, that’s linked with this benefit.

According to researchers the real societal value of schooling may extend beyond pure labor market and economic growth returns. From a policy perspective, schooling may therefore be a vehicle for improving longevity and health, as well as equality along these dimensions.

A study presented at a 2015 meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies revealed what happens when you read to a child. Using brain scanners, the researchers found that reading to children from an early age activated brain areas including the occipital lobes, linked to visual imagery and the parietal lobes, linked to understanding the meaning of language.

These kids have more experience with seeing what they’re hearing. Parents should definitely read often and read widely with back-and-forth conversation with kids, going beyond what’s on the page. While the benefits of reading to children from an early age are well established, this is the first study to use brain scans to show just why that might be.

Considering that reading to your kids is simple, enjoyable and free if you get books from your local public library, this is one strategy that virtually everyone can use to give their kids an intellectual head start and a solid cognitive foundation upon which to grow and expand.

Additional benefits of reading aloud to children include:

Reading aloud is the single most important activity leading to language development.

Builds motivation, curiosity and memory.

Helps children cope during times of stress or tragedy.

Exposes children to story and print knowledge as well as rare words and ideas not often found in day-to-day conversation or screen time.

Helps children practice listening.

Reading offers benefits beyond childhood and well into adulthood and beyond. In a study of nearly 300 people, those who engaged in mentally stimulating activities such as reading had slower memory decline than those who didn’t. Reading and engaging in other mentally enriching activities later in life was associated with a 32 percent lower rate of mental decline.

Reading fiction books has also shown to be particularly beneficial, in this case for empathy. When a reader is engrossed in a fiction novel and becomes emotionally transported into the story, it leads to higher empathy in the reader. Not everyone has access to a quiet place to read and live, and this, too, can have repercussions on physical and mental health, particularly among children.

Children exposed to chronic aircraft noise, for instance, are more likely to have impairment in reading comprehension and long-term memory. In addition, background noise may also have a significant impact on toddlers’ ability to learn language.

Most studies into early word learning take place in a quiet setting, but real-life learning often takes place in noisy environments. One recent study found that 2-year-olds were able to learn new words when there was quiet background noise but not when the background noise was loud. A second experiment similarly found the toddlers could learn the meaning of new words in the presence of loud background noise only if they had previously been taught the words in a quiet setting.

Being read to aloud early and often predicted frequent reading among children ages 6-11. Spending less time online using a computer was also important. Taking the time to read is often viewed as an indulgent pleasure, one many people may feel they don’t have time for. But you needn’t feel guilty for relaxing with a good book. You might even want to carve out at least 20 or 30 minutes to do so daily. The bottom line is, this simple activity gives your body and mind some much-needed time to recharge and regroup from its ordinary responsibilities.

At the same time, it exercises your brain and your emotional health and gives you a chance to engage in creative and imaginative thought. If you want to make time for more reading in two weeks. You can also form an informal book club with friends by reading the same book your life, try setting a reading goal for yourself, such as finishing a book every week or and then getting together to discuss it.

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