THE HEALTH REWARDS OF READING
By Ore Taiwo Makinde.
A 10,000 Dollar reward?
A few weeks ago, I came across the story of Donelan Andrews, a teacher who won 10,000 U.S dollars from a company’s reading reward program called “It Pays to Read” contest. My mouth fell ajar. As if that wasn’t enough, thousands of dollars were donated to schools in the area that Donelan lived to fund children literacy.
How did this happen? She became the distinguished recipient of this reward simply because she took the time to read through the print of a lengthy travel insurance policy. She discovered the contest on page seven of the contract, where it stated that the reward would be assigned to the first person to read that far in the document. Donelan said she had always been an avid reader and so it was no surprise that she received the reading reward. I love reading myself and would love to get rewarded for my reading. How about you? If you could get rewarded for reading, would you endeavour to read some more?
How often do you read?
Folks have been reading for over 2,000 years running, whether from words engraved on stone tablets, on cave walls, on papyrus or in books. It is the primary way of passing across vital messages from person to person. However, the available statistics show that the numbers of people reading has dropped drastically. It has been postulated that the average Nigerian reads less than one book per year and that 40% of adults in Nigeria never get to read a non-fiction book from cover to cover following graduation. These statistics are alarming considering the effects it could have on the socio-economic profile of our nation.
The rewards of reading
Reading can bring you multi-dimensional rewards which range from passing an exam to becoming a professor. However, we should consider the far-reaching effects that reading could have on our physical, social and emotional well-being. Let us highlight some of them:
Reading at home with children has been shown to build good communication skills and to raise self-esteem. These are essential keys to emotional development which in turn favour the cultivation of healthy emotions and promote positive social connections. These factors can also determine how well one will be able to cope with stressful situations.
Reading improves empathy, another social skill that impacts on emotional intelligence. This can be explained by the fact that reading takes you into the world of a fictional or non-fictional character and makes one understand and relate to what they feel. Reading another person’s story also sends a signal to your mind that you are not alone in your challenge. This signal has the potential to inspire you to look for ways of overcoming your own challenge.
Reading enhances sleep hygiene. Reading can be used to induce relaxation just before bedtime. Ever remember falling asleep while listening to a bedtime story? The effect of reading here is quite different from the effect derived while studying for an exam during which you would want to stay awake.
Chronic sleep deprivation compromises well-being, therefore a variety of adjustments in addition to reading can be made to ensure a night of restorative sleep. However, reading for relaxation should be done from a book rather than from a device such as a laptop or a phone. Such devices send out light signals that reduce the secretion of the sleep hormone, melatonin.
Reading improves cognitive function and reserve. Research conducted by neuroscientists has reported that reading can improve brain function in a number of ways. A study conducted by Gregory et al showed that long-term changes in brain connectivity were improved by reading.
Another neuroimaging study demonstrated how a remedial intervention in poor readers was able to improve the white matter in their brains which translates to efficient processing of information. In order to keep the mind engaged meaningfully in the latter years of life, reading is one of the activities recommended to make the brain more adaptable in certain mental functions.
According to the National Institute on Aging, an active mind can compensate for the changes that occur in the nervous tissue as a result of aging such as dementia.
In conclusion, reading is a lifestyle as well as a skill that can be developed if practised as a regular habit. The health rewards of reading can be accessed not just by scanning through newspaper headlines or reading tweets and messages on social media. You can take out 15 minutes to an hour to read every day. Do this not because you want to pass a test but in order to derive pleasure from it along with all the health rewards that come with reading.
Dr Ore Taiwo Makinde is a Consultant Family Physician and certified Lifestyle Medicine Physician.
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