Reading as Part of a Healthy Lifestyle
Reading plays an integral role in a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle. While other behaviors may have stronger effects on your mind and body — such as diet, exercise, and work-life balance — reading has the extra appeal of being free! When you acquire a library card, you gain access to an endless supply of books, each of which has the potential to enhance your life in a multitude of ways. As you indulge in a dedicated reading habit, you may experience better sleep, reduced stress, and other healthful benefits.
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Literary fiction dives deep into the thoughts, feelings, and motives of its characters. This look into the personal details of a person, even when fictional, promotes acceptance and understanding of other people and cultures. Empathy refers to the ability to understand or identify with the mental state of others, which in turn allows us to navigate the intricate social relationships that we encounter every day.
Researchers have found that literary fiction may temporarily enhance Theory of Mind — another term for empathy. The control group that read literary fiction, as opposed to non-fiction or popular fiction, scored higher on Theory of Mind tests.
Helping Prevent Cognitive Issues
Reading can take us anywhere: to mythical mountaintops, into the depths of a character’s soul, or back in time through ancient history. But unlike movies and television, the book doesn’t do the imagining for us. It’s up to the reader to convert the markings on the page into the fantastical worlds, people, and emotions in their heads. This provokes the brain to stay active and imaginative, something that movies and television can’t quite match.
To support good cognitive health as we grow older, the National Institute on Aging recommends keeping the mind active as much as possible. This can include reading books and magazines, but also extends to participation in activities like theater, music, dance, or creative writing.
Stress can have detrimental effects on the human body. It is often associated with a weakened immune system, insomnia, depression, and an increased risk of a heart attack. Taking just a few minutes out of your day to read can help reduce the stresses caused by our busy lives.
One study set out to explore the effects of reading, yoga, and humor on the stress levels of college students. Health science students were either given a 30-minute yoga session, a popular comedic video, or readings from Newsweek and online publications. The researchers found that reading had the same positive effects as yoga or humor regarding stress indicators (blood pressure, heart rate, and Daily Stress Inventory).
The price of a movie ticket now sits at over $10 at most theaters. Many video games come with price tags of $60 or more, and a day at Disneyland will set you back over $100 per person. However, your local library allows readers to explore an endless variety of new worlds and stories at no cost.
Even when you purchase a book at full price, you receive much more entertainment value for your dollar. A $12 paperback book may provide five or more hours of amusement, while a $12 movie ticket will only keep you entertained for about two hours.
A Better Night’s Sleep
Harvard Medical School provides a dozen recommendations for healthy sleep, one of which is the establishment of a pre-sleep routine that may include light reading, relaxation exercises, and the avoidance of stress-inducing activities. Reading literature (or even a hard-copy magazine) is the perfect substitute for late-night smartphone browsing, an addiction that causes poor sleep quality for many people.
Positive Programs at the Library
Libraries provide their patrons with countless opportunities to engage in positive practices, with books being just the tip of the iceberg. They also host community events, classes, and other programs that promote a healthy lifestyle.
Book clubs offer an opportunity to discuss literature with like-minded readers. Reading at the group’s pace provides an incentive to push through and finish those longer books. The discussion-focused meetups give people a chance to work on public speaking and thoughtful communication. Furthermore, attendees can enhance their empathy by listening to other people’s perspectives on the book.
Many libraries offer yoga classes, either for free or a nominal fee. Yoga is known to have many of the same positive benefits as reading, including stress reduction and enhanced empathy.
Language classes and conversation practice are common sights at libraries. This allows learners to converse and gain practical experience with their new language. If there aren’t any current events for the language you are learning, contact the library to express interest in forming a new group!
Additional educational programming may include dance classes, cooking demos, or fitness groups, all of which contribute to a healthy lifestyle.
Today more than ever, people are in dire need of community and connection. The CDC warns that loneliness and social isolation can increase the risk of dementia, heart disease, and other ailments. Luckily, your local library often promotes community and connection through the organization of social events.
These events may include gardening classes, board game nights, poetry slams, and more. Attending library-sponsored events is an excellent way to connect with like-minded people and participate in your local community. If they don’t have events that relate to your interests, library staff may even allow users to host gatherings on their property.
A well-rounded lifestyle may seem difficult to maintain in the fast-paced culture we live in today. Books and libraries can help sustain healthy lifestyles in communities around the world. By discovering new perspectives, readers can gain empathy and knowledge, as well as reduce their stress levels and slow down cognitive issues. Libraries will sometimes promote additional healthy practices, such as book clubs, social events, or educational classes.
And best of all, with the help of your local library, the benefits of reading are available to anyone, free of charge.