How to read your way away from  Dementia?

How to read your way away from Dementia?

“Leaders are readers.” “Those who read, succeed.” Almost all of us know these common expressions but when do we ever think about the proof behind them? That would take research, and then that would mean reading. It’s one of those things that we know we should do, but just like starting a diet, going to the gym, or any other healthy habit, its not only difficult to start, but also to keep up with. But now many of us are discovering extra time on our hands on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, so in reality, now is the best time to pick up this new habit. It will not only add immense value to our everyday life, but also help keep us from going crazy from all that time spent in lockdown. 

I didn’t discover the immense value that reading carries until I was in my mid-twenties. Life before that composed a scene of a boat sailing on unpredictable currents and unconquerable winds. Reading helped bring more peace and calmness into my life, and I think it can do the same for you.

But don’t just go by my opinion, after all, who am I? I know a skeptical reader when I see one. Perhaps scientific proof can help shine a light on the hidden codes these expressions are signaling. In this article, we’ll cover some of the most commonly acclaimed benefits from everyday reading, all backed by research and science.

1.       Reading increases intelligence

Reading has been shown as one of the best activities to increase intelligence as it exposes oneself to a wide variety of vocabulary and also implores the memory part of the brain by introducing many elements in the story for the reader to keep track of, such as events, characters, dates, etc. As children we learn at a rapid pace and soak up information like a sponge, but although the rate of learning is not as quick in adulthood, there’s no reason to suggest that the learning stops there. The University of London conducted a study that tested the vocabulary skills of the same people, first at age 16, and then later at age 42. The researchers asked the participants how often they read and other simple questions about their daily habits. The younger age group average score was 55%, while the average of the older age group was 63%, meaning that humans continue to learn language skills even as adults. But the most interesting note here is that those participants who read frequently for pleasure scored the highest marks on the test. Adults aren’t the only ones expanding their minds as they read. Children perhaps show the greatest growth in intelligence when reading. A paper published by The University of California Berkeley showed that Children’s books expose children to 50% more words than prime TV or even a conversation between two college graduates. This early exposure leads to higher scores on not just reading tests, but overall intelligence tests.

2.       Reading reduces stress

When it comes to relaxing activities, reading tops the list. A study conducted at the University of Sussex in England found that only six minutes of reading was enough of a distraction to reduce participants’ stress levels by 68 percent. Interestingly enough, reading proved to be the most successful in achieving this relaxation effect, more than drinking a cup of tea or coffee, listening to music, or taking a walk. When we read a book, we forget about the world around us and lose ourselves in the story, allowing our worries to dissipate and letting our minds wander free and happily. The next time you’re feeling stressed and wanting to pull your hair out, take a breath, light a candle, and crack open a book. It only takes a few pages and a few minutes to get you feeling well again.

3.       Reading can make you more empathetic

Being able to truly understand and empathize with people is an attribute that is largely valued in today’s defensive and vulnerable society. Researches from the New School for Social Research in New York have concluded that reading fictional books, contributes to the enhancement of what scientists are calling, ToM, or Theory of the Mind, an ability that revolves around the understanding of others and their perspectives. “Understanding others’ mental states is a crucial skill that enables the complex social relationships that characterize human societies,” David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano wrote of their findings.

4.       Reading can slow the progress (and possibly prevent) Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

Perhaps one of the most motivating reasons to read is to keep Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease at bay. Dementia is a widely used term for  a decline in mental ability that is serious enough to cause disturbance with everyday life. Alzheimer’s Disease  is the most common form of Dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of cases. Albert Einstein once said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying”. Without something to stimulate our minds, our brain’s power only remains stagnant or declines. A study published in the online Journal of Neurology showed that habitual mental exercise was able to lower brain decline by 32 %.   Another study conducted by Robert S. Wilson at The University Medical center in Chicago looked at a sample of 294 elderly men and women, mostly in their 80s, who were given mental and thinking exams every year in the remaining years of their lives. Its important to note that the participants also completed questionnaires stating how often they performed mentally stimulating tasks, such as reading, writing letters or visiting a library. After the participants passed away, their brains were examined by researches for any signs of Alzheimer’s and Dementia. The researchers found that people who participated in mentally challenging activities most often, both early and late in life, had a slower rate of decline in memory compared to those who did not engage in such activities. “Based on this, we shouldn’t underestimate the effects of everyday activities, such as reading and writing, on our children, ourselves and our parents or grandparents,” said Dr. Wilson. At this point its relevant to ask if the theory of the cognitive reserve hypothesis of mental function is more credible due to this study. This theory essentially hypothesizes that mentally challenging tasks help to maintain and build brain cells and connections between brain cells. In turn, these connections come to our assistance later in life by offsetting the damage to the brain caused by Alzheimer’s and Dementia, thereby assisting with preserving the memory and thinking skills. This isn’t the only study to present this correlation. One publication from the PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed that those who participate in mental exercises that highly stimulate the brain, such as reading, chess, or puzzles could be 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those who use their free time on less stimulating activities.

5.       Reading can increase your lifespan

That’s right. Reading can add more time onto that precious life of yours.

Researchers collected data on 3,635 people over 50 years old participating in a larger health study who had answered questions about reading. After dividing the sample into three groups: those who read no books, those who read books up to three and a half hours a week, and those who read books for more than three and a half hours a week, researchers found that book readers tended to be female, college-educated and in higher income groups. Because of this, researchers controlled for those factors as well as age, race, self-reported health, depression, employment and marital status. Compared with those who did not read books, those who read for up to three and a half hours a week were 17 percent less likely to die over a 12-year follow-up period; and those who read more than that were 23 percent less likely to die. Book readers lived an average of almost two years longer than those who did not read at all. They discovered a similar but weaker association among those who read newspapers and periodicals. Books proved to have the larger impact of one’s lifespan. “People who report as little as a half-hour a day of book reading had a significant survival advantage over those who did not read,” said the senior author, Becca R. Levy, a professor of epidemiology at Yale. “And the survival advantage remained after adjusting for wealth, education, cognitive ability and many other variables.” So, if you want to be celebrating next New Year’s Eve, set and follow the resolution of reading every day, and take comfort in the fact that the phrase, “There’s always next year”, will perhaps hold more truth for you.   

6.       Reading can help you sleep

Better Sleep, Better Life. Yeah, I just made that up, but tell me I’m wrong. We all feel better when we wake up refreshed from a good night’s sleep. But how does reading contribute to better sleep? Well, according to the Mayo Clinic, when we establish a bedtime ritual, such as reading a book before bed, we train the brain to wind down and prepare for bed. It’s important to mention that this is only true with actual physical books, not electronic books on screens. Research has shown that e-screens and tablets can actually hurt your sleep and keep you awake longer. This is especially important in the case of children. According to a publication in Pediatrics, 54% of children sleep near a small screen and clock 20 fewer minutes of sleep because of it. There’s something about the pages of a book that brings the body to a relaxed, restful state, in contrast to the restlessness brought on by our electronic devices.

In conclusion, reading is an activity that leads to better lives all around. Incorporating it as a daily habit will serve you wonders. If you’re having trouble starting or keeping up with it, try to first choose a book that will allure your interests. Then gradually you can gravitate to other genres that perhaps have more knowledge to offer. Place your book somewhere you’ll always see it: on your bedside table, your work desk, or anywhere you spend a lot of your time.  This will ensure that you don’t forget to take a few minutes to exercise your brain. It may be slow-going at first, but once you pick up some steam, you’ll find yourself loving it, and may find that it’s now more difficult to control yourself from reading too much.

Dallas McClain

Editor- in Chief