The Surprising Health Benefits of Reading

The Surprising Health Benefits of Reading

I’ve always loved books and reading, thanks to my parents who encouraged my siblings and me to read. I will never forget the weekly trips to the library of my childhood, where my sister and I pored over shelves to find new biographies to read. (Always true stories). It was always an exciting “trip to town” when our mom announced it would include a stop at the library. We read dozens of books, including all the Little House on the Prairie books.

I come by my love of books very honestly. My mom is an inveterate researcher. When she has a problem, she finds books and researches them until she has a solution. Case-in-point: when my dad had such poor health and energy, it was a struggle to function in his job, my mom took to the library, reading dozens of books about health and nutrition and growing organic foods. She used this knowledge to change our family diet, grow organic produce, and turn around my dad’s health.

Like my mom, I love books that teach me new things. I also love books with a good story in which I can utterly get lost. For most of my adult life, my reading has continued steadily, although often crowded out by other things. Until recently, I was either working full-time and going to school, or later, I was busy being a working mom. This all changed last year, when I quit my job to stay home with our children after our son was born. With a little extra time, I was able to rekindle my love of reading.

Even though I really value reading and learning, I struggle to make time to read, especially novels. There is something in me that thinks it’s not quite productive enough. Yet, I’ve discovered some secrets along the way, similar to the person who makes time to increase sleep or exercise suddenly finds they get more done.

  1. Reading relaxes me and helps me get to sleep. I have a habit of reading a book right before I go to sleep. Reading (especially fiction or biographical story) stops my brain from churning on all the things I need to do and things I didn’t get done, and engages it in a different way. Pretty soon, I’m asleep (my husband would add that sometimes the book falling out of my hands and hitting me in the face wakes me up again though…).
  1. Reading gives me perspective. Here’s an example: I’m currently reading “The Count of Monte Cristo” with one of my book groups. Reading the scenes of where Dante is imprisoned indefinitely in a dark, damp dungeon gives some good perspective on my woes of getting the house clean. 🙂
  1. Reading reduces anxiety. I have a brain that likes to churn ALL.THE.TIME. I like to think about what I should be doing, what I am doing, how I’m going to reach my goals, how someone else is reaching their goals, if I should change what I’m doing, what I need to do for my kids…. You get the picture. I’ve found if I take a bit of time to read during the day, it gives my brain a break, taking it into a different gear.
  1. Taking time to read helps me get more done. The time I can get my brain offline from “the churn” reduces anxiety and puts me in a more productive frame of mind. After I’ve read for a bit, I find I’ve cleared my mind of overwhelm and can more readily attack my tasks.
  1. Reading expands my vocabulary, stretches my mind, and allows me to see things from others’ perspectives. Books can help the reader become more empathic. More educated on what it’s like to be in another’s shoes. More educated on the struggles others’ face that may not be part of my world. This can only make relationships better – and healthy relationships are key to well-being.
  1. Reading makes me a better parent. My daughter sees me reading, and she wants to read too. She told she REALLY wants to come to my book club. Modeling reading to my children, as my mom did for me, is key to their interest in reading.

When I feel reluctant to “indulge” in the time it takes to read, I remind myself of these things. It really is worth the time it takes to read, just like it is worth it to exercise and get good sleep. Yes, it takes extra time, but if it sharpens me as a person and makes me more effective, it is very well worth it.

Have you found some surprising benefits of taking time to read? Please share in the comments!

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