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Five minutes of Reading a Day benefits mental Well being

Updated: Mar 29

Research has shown that reading as little as five minutes a day can reduce stress levels by 60% and is as beneficial for mental well being as walking 10 000 steps per day.

This is refreshing news indeed. While reading should not be seen as a replacement for physical exercise or healthy eating, it is a form of mental exercise that can transport the reader into an inner world of visualisation, exploration, creative thinking and understanding of the social as well as the physical world around us.

Unlike television or other forms of visual electronic media, words act as the keys to imagination. While words paint pictures in the mind's eye, stories help us to understand relationships beyond those of own direct experience - to feel as another - while also transporting us to places we have never visited and times through history we cannot have known. In effect, they enable us to make journeys from the comfort of an armchair and in the space of our own mind.

Neurologically, the human brain is not naturally pre-wired to translate letters into sounds. We learn to read by "repurposing parts of the brain meant to do other things — visual processing, language comprehension, and speech production" . The written word is an evolutionary development of the spoken word.

Before books were available, history, stories and knowledge was passed down orally; through ballads, songs and tales; Reading begins with the ability to match visual symbols to speech sounds, starting primarily in the right hemisphere of the cortex gradually transferring activity to the left hemisphere as reading becomes fluent. The left side of the brain is associated with language processing, speech, and reading. Each lobe has a unique role in reading words and they interact to link printed words with letter sounds and meaning in the parietal-temporal region where a written word is segmented into its sounds (word analysis, sounding out words). While the left side of the brain is involved in the linguistic, logical and analytical aspects of reading, the right side of the brain is more involved in seeing words as pictures and processing meaning and emotional content. In this way, both sides of the brain are occupied in the reading process.

The latter may be important in terms of mood regulation as the right hemisphere of the cortex has more neural connections downwards to centres in the brain involved in physical responses to emotion. One of the lesser known possible reasons why "talking" therapies may be helpful at times of stress and in the treatment of mood disorders, is because thoughts linked to negative emotions trapped in the right side of the brain are released when the left brain becomes involved - in other words, when feelings are verbalised and expressed in verbal form. Occupying both sides of the brain in language and imagination may provide a release or reprieve from a cycle of negative thoughts.

One study carried out on an aging community of nuns investigated whether there were differences between sisters who retained their mental faculties well into old age and those who did not. Community life was chosen as the basis for the subjects because the nuns had all shared a similar life style during their adult years. Researchers had asked participants to fill in a questionnaire about their lives before entering the convent.

Analysis of the questionnaires and sisters' vocabulary in old age revealed that those nuns who had an extensive vocabulary in old age had a slower rate of decline in general mental abilities. The common factor amongst this group was that they had all been read to extensively in childhood. When the researcher was asked what people could do to stave off the mental ravages of old age, the reply was, when your child is young, read to your child; when you have finished, read to your child again.*

Reading introduces us to new ways of thinking, problem solving, seeing our own situations through different eyes, escape from the mundane and extend our realm of possibilities. It can be a daily work out for the brain and an antidote to loneliness. but most of all, it is enjoyable.

*Snowden D, 2001, Ageing with Grace. Fourth Estate. London.

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I feel like I'm having a conversation with a friend when I read your blog. geometry dash meltdown

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