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By Jane Sandwood

Bookworms often say that one or more books have changed their lives, influenced their philosophy on important matters and inspired them to live a life of greater passion. Now, science is backing what they probably already instinctively knew – books have a positive effect on our health, to the extent that they can actually add years to our lives. It doesn’t matter whether you are into mental health, exciting mysteries, or passionate romance literature – pick up a book and start reading, availing of the many secret benefits you may not have ever imagined.

The Power of Books

One study undertaken by scientists at Yale University, published in Social Science & Medicine (2016) looked into the reading habits of 5,635 participants in the Health and Retirement Study. They found that people who read books regularly had a 20% lower risk of dying over the next 12 years, compared to those who did not read or who only read newspapers and magazines. The difference existed irrespective of factors such as depression, economic wealth, state of health, etc.

Staving off Depression

One of the greatest benefits of reading, is better mental health. Research carried out by scientists at the University of Liverpool, found that reading, particularly in a reading group, can soothe depression by promoting self-esteem and participation. People who took part in reading groups, noted researchers, reported being ‘taken out of themselves’ by a beautiful book or poem, feeling ‘more positive about things’ and feeling the sense of a ‘shared journey’. As noted by Hodge et al, “reading together a literary text not only harnesses 10 the power of reading as a cognitive process: it acts as a powerful socially coalescing presence, allowing readers a sense of subjective and shared experience at the same time.” In line with these findings is a previous study carried out at the University of Sussex, showing that reading is one of the most effective ways to battle stress. Just a few flicks of an exciting thriller or romance brings down your heart rate and muscle tension, in less than 10 minutes, thus helping keep anxiety and panic at bay.

Brain Boosting benefits

Reading improves our ability to focus, slows down memory decline, and keeps Alzheimer’s disease at bay. One recent study, published in the journal Neurology, showed that reading and writing can have a big effect on seniors’ mental health: “Our study suggests that exercising your brain by taking part in activities such as these across a person’s lifetime, from childhood through old age, is important for brain health in old age,” noted lead author, Robert S. Wilson. He added that findings showed that reading and writing slowed down mental decline and helped protect memory and thinking skills, even when people had plaques, tangles and other signs of damage to their brains.

Reading is one of life’s great pleasures, but it also has powerful benefits for our health, helping us live longer, fighting depression and helping to keep us safe from Alzheimer’s disease. Every avid reader has their own list of reasons why reading is an important part of their lives. What are yours?

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