The seven benefits of reading - scientifically proven

 
(This picture was taken during TOKA activities in December 2019).

During these days of self-isolation, many of us have found ourselves reading our favorite books. Even the TOKA staff a few weeks ago shared on their social media pages their favorite books, inviting all of the followers to show us the books they are reading during this period.

We have also, during our human rights and environmental campaign, rewarded many young people with various books, which they will soon receive in their homes. To see more about this campaign you can click here. 

But apart from spending time on self-isolation, what do we gain from reading? If you’ve ever been curious to understand what happens to your brain and body when you read, then you’re in the right place. Keep reading and you will understand the seven reasons why you should add reading to your list of daily activities.

1. Reading is considered gymnastics for your brain

According to a study of 1,890 identical twins conducted during 2014 in the UK, reading at an early age can affect readers ’intellectual abilities. From the twins who took part in this long-term study, it was observed that the twins who had read the most during early childhood showed higher intellectual abilities when he/she reached the age of 7 years.

In a long-term analysis of the impact of reading on cognitive development on 1,890 pairs of twins tested at 7, 9, 10, 12, and 16 years old, it was found that in general intelligence tests, twins who had better reading skills scored higher.

Just like the muscles that need exercise, your brain benefits from reading. According to the president and head of research at Haskins Laboratories, Ken Pugh, PhD, “When you read, some parts of the brain are activated that have evolved for other functions - such as sight, language, or learning to connect, and this activity is very much challenging for you and your brain ”. So, get a book and start your mental exercises!

2. Reading increases your ability to feel empathy

Empathy, as defined by the Oxford Psychological Dictionary, is the human ability to understand and enter the world of someone else's feelings and emotions, or to experience something from someone else's point of view. Reading increases our chances of practicing this skill.

Some experiments conducted during 2013 show us that literature, and especially imaginary literature, has the potential to help readers understand what the other person is feeling just by reading about the other person's emotions. This impact, the experimenters said, appears to be greater in people who read fictional literature than in those who read non-fiction literature.

They added that the mental state of understanding the other - empathy - is an extremely important skill as it enables human beings to socialize with each other, and these connections are the foundation for the development of human societies.

Meeting a very interesting character, or an impressive story does not seem like a bad idea at all, on the contrary, various experiments show that they can be very useful for your relationships!


3. Reading helps expand your vocabulary

In 2011, some scientists analyzed data from another long-term study on reading skills in children of different ages, assessing them on their 8th, 11th, 14th, and 16th birthdays. It was found that students who read continuously, starting from an early age, gradually expanded their vocabulary. An extended vocabulary can affect many later aspects of life, such as points on standardized tests or increased employment opportunities.

Based on a survey by Cengage, conducted during 2019, at least 65% of employees ask their employees for good "soft" skills, such as the ability to communicate well. Meanwhile, up to 50% of employees require a good computer and technical skills from their employees.

From this, we can understand how important soft skills are in the workplace, and we encourage our readers to continue to invest in developing these skills, either through reading or through experiential learning or non-formal education.


4. Reading prevents cognitive impairment, which comes with age

As our bodies and minds get older, the need naturally arises to engage our brain in mental activities, which protects it from aging. The U.S. National Institute on Aging recommends on its website that reading can be used as a preventative measure against aging.

Numerous scientists are still searching for whether reading ultimately helps prevent age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, but what some research suggests is that older people who read or solve logical math problems for each day show that these activities help you by keeping them in good cognitive functioning.

5. Reading lowers stress levels

And who hasn't felt that during these days they have experienced more stress than usual? Constant stress, scientists, and doctors tell us, has a negative impact on our immune system, making us more vulnerable to various viruses.

A 2009 study by the University of Sussex concluded that reading for just 6 minutes each day can reduce stress levels by up to 68%. The lead researcher of this study, Dr. David Lewis said that "no matter what you are reading, when you lose yourself in a book, you get away from the worries and daily stresses and during that time you are traveling in the author's imaginary world."

In the same year, a group of researchers measured the impact of yoga, humor, and reading on stress levels in U.S. students. After a few measurements, they found that 30 minutes of reading can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and feelings of psychological stress, just as well as yoga or humor.

From this, it seems that in the list of activities that help us to overcome daily stresses, such as walking in nature, listening to music, cooking favorite recipes, it is worth adding reading for a few minutes during the day.


6. Reading prepares you for better sleep

If you have recently had difficulty sleeping, then you are not alone. For this, doctors at the Mayo Clinic suggest reading printed books more than using electronic devices because of strong lights, especially those electronic devices, signal to the brain that it is time to wake up, not sleep.

Reading before bed, according to some sleep experts, helps create a de-stressing routine, calms the mind, and signals to your body that the time has come to sleep.

So, tonight before bed, take a book and read for 30 minutes. Keep doing it every day, and your sleep will improve, among many other aspects of your life. At least that's how scientific research guides us.


7. Reading reduces the symptoms of depression

Have you ever heard of library therapy? If not here's a new product just for you! If you are curious, you can see its definition in different dictionaries, and in the Oxford Dictionary of Psychology, you will find it as a type of psychotherapy during which reading a text defined by a psychotherapist is essential in the therapeutic process. 

It is this type of psychotherapy that some scientists have used to test whether reading helps reduce the symptoms of depression. They found that reading self-help books combined with instructional sessions on how to use this psychotherapy marked a drop in the level of depressive symptoms even after a year in patients who used the library.

Furthermore, the University of Manchester published in 2013 an extensive analysis of the research of 2,470 people who suffer from severe depression. In this publication, the results show that people who show symptoms of severe depression can benefit from so-called "low-intensity interventions," including self-help books or interactive web pages.

These data are significant not only for the medical community but also for all of us who during negative situations can manifest changes in mood and energy levels, changes which can result in symptoms of depression.

For this, we ask you to pay extra attention to your mental health and contact the relevant health institutions, in case you notice any unpleasant changes in your emotional and psychological state.

Scientific data shows that even library therapy can make us feel better at home.

Thanks for reading and attention!

Below you can find the full list of scientific references, which are used for this article. You can use them to learn even more about the benefits of reading.

Reference list:

1.  Society for Research in Child Development. (2014, July 24). Stronger early reading skills predict higher intelligence later. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 22, 2020 from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140724094209.htm

2.  Ritchie, S. J., Bates, T. C., & Plomin, R. (2015). Does Learning to Read Improve Intelligence? A Longitudinal Multivariate Analysis in Identical Twins From Age 7 to 16. Child Development, 86(1), 23–26. Doi: https://srcd.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/cdev.12272 

3.     Watch This. No. Read It! Retrieved May 22, 2020 from: http://www.oprah.com/health/how-reading-can-improve-your-memory#ixzz2VYPyX3uU

4.  Colman, A.M. (2009). A Dictionary of Psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

5.  Kidd, C. D. & Castano E. (2013). Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind. Science, 342(6156), 377-380. Doi: 10.1126/science.1239918

6.  Cain, K. & Oakhill, H. (2011). Matthew Effects in Young Readers: Reading Comprehension and Reading Experience Aid Vocabulary Development. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 44(5), 431-443. Doi: 10.1177/0022219411410042

7.     New Survey: Demand For "Uniquely Human Skills" Increases Even As Technology and Automation Replace Some Jobs. Retrieved May 22, 2020 from: https://news.cengage.com/upskilling/new-survey-demand-for-uniquely-human-skills-increases-even-as-technology-and-automation-replace-some-jobs/

8.     Cognitive Health and Older Adults. Retrieved May 22, 2020 from: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/cognitive-health-and-older-adults

9.     Uchida, S., & Kawashima, R. (2008). Reading and solving arithmetic problems improves cognitive functions of normal aged people: a randomized controlled study. Age (30), 21–29. Doi: 10.1007/s11357-007-9044-x 

10.  Reading 'can Help Reduce Stress'. Retrieved May 22, 2020 from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html

11.  Rizzolo, D., Zipp, G. P., Stiskal, D., & Simpkins, S. (2009). Stress Management Strategies For Students: The Immediate Effects Of Yoga, Humor, And Reading On Stress. Journal of College Teaching & Learning, 6(8), 79–88. Doi: 10.19030/tlc.v6i8.1117

12.  6 Steps To Better Sleep. Retrieved May 22, 2020 from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/sleep/art-20048379

13.  How To De-stress Before Bed. Retrieved May 22, 2020, from: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/stress-less-challenge-sleep_n_3157927

14.  Williams C., Wilson P., Morrison J., McMahon A., Walker A., Allan L., et al. (2013). Correction: Guided Self-Help Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Depression in Primary Care: A Randomised Controlled Trial. PLoS ONE 8(9). Doi: 10.1371/annotation/998d1a71-7c06-4ebd-8deb-d5db5ad21c31

15.  Bower P., Kontopantelis E., Sutton A., Kendrick T., Richards D. A., Gilbody S., et al. (2013). Influence of initial severity of depression on the effectiveness of low-intensity interventions: a meta-analysis of individual patient data. BMJ (346).

[i] Kjo fushatë është pjesë e aktiviteteve ambientaliste, që është e financuar nga Agjencia Suedeze për Bashkëpunim dhe Zhvillim Ndërkombëtar, (SIDA) përmes Programit të saj “Human Rightivism”.