Reading changes the way we think

Why reading is good for the psyche and can prolong life

Most people today spend far more time in front of computer and cell phone screens than reading books. There are still many good reasons for “correct”, that is, more in-depth and longer reading. It helps, for example, to broaden your own horizons, to escape the world for a while and also to simply make yourself happy. Reading books also increases intelligence and empathy, can delay the development of dementia and even make us more resilient to mental illness. Studies have also found evidence that reading can even extend life.

Who reads books lives longer

But where do all these positive effects of reading on our mental - and ultimately physical - health come from? Researchers at the University of Michigan (USA) have investigated this question. Since 1992 they have been using questionnaires to investigate the relationship between health and retirement in older people. For a long time hardly any attention was paid to reading behavior. It was only in 2016 that scientists at the Institute for Health Care at Yale University reevaluated the study data from twelve years of surveys. The focus was on the reading habits and the state of health of more than 3,600 women and men over 50 years of age.

The researchers found an interesting connection: Those who read a book for at least half an hour a day for several years lived an average of two years longer than people who did not read the newspapers or only read them. It didn't matter whether the people preferred novels or non-fiction, poetry or prose. More notably, those who read books more than three hours a week had a 23 percent lower death rate than subjects who only read newspapers or magazines.

Reading increases the efficiency of the brain

Researchers suggest that reading makes the brain more resilient. But why does reading books improve the performance of the brain, whereas reading newspapers and magazines does not? Yale scientists believe that reading books promotes “deep” reading. In contrast to skimming a newspaper page with headlines, the brain has to create larger connections, think critically and find references from one chapter to the next as well as to the real world. This creates new connections between different regions of the brain and between the two hemispheres. Those who practice this over a longer period of time encourage faster thinking and are better able to protect themselves against the effects of age-related cognitive decline.

Books promote empathy and emotional intelligence

But reading books apparently does a lot more than that. Apparently it can increase empathy as well as emotional intelligence. In a 2013 study, researchers from the New School in New York City found that book readers showed more empathy than newspaper readers. Another study by the National Endowment for the Arts was able to show, among other things, that people who read books often are more open to other cultures, are more likely to accept them and rate them positively more often than people who do not read.

Protection against dementia?

But reading magazines, newspapers and Internet articles can also be beneficial, because any reading material that stimulates the mind and conveys new information, words and expressions seems to have a positive effect on the brain. This is also borne out by studies showing that people who speak multiple languages ​​are protected from dementia and cognitive decline for longer.

For example, in examinations of seniors after their death, signs of Alzheimer's were found in the brain, although they never showed symptoms of dementia during their lifetime. Researchers suspect that the people were able to compensate for the damage to their brains with the help of their cognitive reserves. And these are strengthened, among other things, by reading, social contacts, but also by learning or mastering several languages.

Photo: © JenkoAtaman - Fotolia.com

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