This World Book Day, Start Reading for Pleasure Again
It’s well documented that reading is beneficial for the brain. Leaders in a wide array of fields recommend it as one of the key practices that helped them become successful. Experts hail it as an activity that enhances knowledge, promotes logical reasoning, and deepens critical thinking abilities.
Yet, in terms of benefits, there is one fundamental side of reading that rarely gets talked about ––how reading for pleasure is just as good for us.
We read a lot of things in the course of our workday: manuals, textbooks, study materials, newspapers, reports, white papers, reviews. All of this serves some specific purpose, advancing our career or education, or both. But how many of us make time to read just for the sake of reading?
Many think reading for fun is a waste of time. That the point of reading is for the utility of learning. But studies have shown that reading purely for enjoyment has multiple brain benefits as well. According to several experts, reading for relaxation is one of the best ways to reduce chronic stress levels and improve brain performance.
For World Book Day, let’s learn more about what reading for pleasure can do for our brain, and how to incorporate it as a brain improvement strategy.
Reading for Pleasure and Benefits
Avowed bookworms aside, reading is not everyone’s idea of enjoyment or relaxation. Audio-visual media and content have a much bigger appeal in today’s age. Reading, however, has certain marked benefits over watching TV as a relaxation activity, making it a hobby worth pursuing.
Mental health expert Nicola Morgan uses the term “Readaxation” to describe “the act of reading for pleasure as a deliberate strategy for relaxing stress levels.” According to her, and recent studies like this one, having reading as a hobby can deeply impact the formation of the brain’s neural pathways, resulting in a long-term transformative effect on our life.
It allows us to lose ourselves
When we read a story, our brain actually emulates the experiences narrated in it. It is called ‘embodied cognition’, in which the brain is tricked into experiencing things that are not happening in real life.
While we’re reading, we stop experiencing our own emotions, including things that are causing us stress. Losing oneself in a story offers a much-needed break from our own stressors, allowing us to rejuvenate, but without adding the screen fatigue that is inevitable with TV viewing.
Provides healthy engagement
The act of experiencing a story requires working our imagination, giving our brain a massive workout. Reading engages both the right and left hemispheres of the brain, areas associated with visual processing, language processing, phonetic processing, logical reasoning, and also interestingly, areas that control sensory inputs. For example, when we read about a particular smell the brain area associated with olfactory processing is activated; when we read about a particular sound our auditory processing areas light up.
Readers often report that they prefer reading a story over watching it because it allows them to imagine the details instead of simply being shown them. This is because so much of the brain is actively engaged in mimicking the entire sensory experience rather than just visually processing it. It is a constructive and pleasurable activity for our brain that helps keep it sharp, even as we age.
Builds empathy and perspective
Studies have shown that when we read, we are literally experiencing the story from the narrator’s perspective. If they’re running, the areas in our brain associated with physically running are activated. This means that reading helps us experience things and situations that we may never encounter in real life. And that helps us see things from another person’s point of view.
This experience helps in building empathy and encourages our brains to keep an open mind for ideas and perspectives. It prepares us for thinking out of the box, innovating, and surviving through difficult times. It gives us a deeper understanding of others’ issues and helps us identify commonalities in individuals and situations that we may have never considered before.
Provides instant and long-term stress relief
Stuck in a rut? Overthinking the same problem? Pick up a book, and after a short period of time, we’ll often find ourselves better prepared to tackle the problems plaguing us.
Stories take us away from real life and engage our brains in an alternate reality. In that time, the stressed part of our brain is able to rest, reducing the levels of stress hormones, which allows ideas to transfer from our conscious mind into our default network. This process is essential in enabling us to think about problems creatively, helping us arrive at a solution that our overworked brain may have missed before.
When practiced regularly, this deliberate de-stressing helps reduce the symptoms of chronic stress over time. We sleep better, think with more clarity, and get relief from a host of stress-related health issues like digestion and nerve problems.
We often feel guilty about pleasure-reading, thinking maybe this time could have been better utilized if spent learning something profitable, actionable, or educational. But reading for pleasure has as many benefits as reading for a specific purpose, and those are worth pursuing.
So pick up that new novel at the local bookstore, or that favorite childhood classic from the library rack. Your brain will thank you!