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How reading helps you and your brain

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Several of you may remember Kyle XY, the hit TV series from 2006, starring Matt Dallas. The story is about a brilliant kid who stayed in an incubation tank – that had all of the characteristics of a womb – for years. 

He was able to memorize a book’s contents word-for-word with a simple flip through the pages. Despite the show’s premature cancellation, its teenage audience was inspired by the protagonist’s supernatural reading abilities.

Unfortunately, reading can be a difficult task for many people. Those who prefer not to read are inclined to partake in activities that don’t require much mental effort. The blockbuster series, “Game Of Thrones”, was viewed by millions of people. Yet, few would know that it was based on a book series called “The Song of Ice and Fire” by George RR Martin”, and even fewer would take the time to read the book.

So, why is this the case? Why do some people prefer to watch TV or mindlessly scroll through their smartphones instead of reading for a few minutes each day? 

It’s okay for people not to have the time to read because it’s not so easy these days. However, I do believe that those who read benefit from it, and this article was written for those who want to find the time to do so.

So, what are the benefits of reading more? Why read a book when you can just watch the video summary of it? It is true that you can save some time by doing so, and there is nothing wrong with that. Nevertheless, let’s face it, reading is to the mind what exercising is to the body, and you cannot train your body just by watching videos on YouTube. 

Focus and Concentration. 

Reading improves your focus and concentration, first and foremost. Similar to running or listening to music, reading can be a form of meditation. 

Carl Newport states in his book, “Deep Work”, that due to all the distractions of today, a lot of people have trouble concentrating. The average person, he said, works on a task for five minutes, checks their email, chats with a few friends, and then uses their smartphone. By doing this type of multitasking, we are less able to pay attention and are therefore less productive, according to Newport. 

Newport further argues that to master a subject, one needs to engage in deep work such as spending uninterrupted time with complete concentration. It is therefore increasingly crucial that we improve our ability to focus, and reading is a great way to do that.

When you read a book, all your focus goes into the story. The rest of the world is closed off as you absorb every single detail. Activities like this are good for improving comprehension, and thus, concentration. If you read 15 to 20 minutes before work, you will be surprised at how much more focused you are once you get to work.

Stress Reduction and Relaxation.

Relaxation can also be achieved by reading. Has your life ever been so stressful that you dreamt of escaping it temporarily? If so, reading may just help you accomplish that goal.

You can be transported to another dimension by a great book. The moment you really immerse yourself in the story, it feels as if you are not just reading a character, but you are that character. As Martin said in his book, “A Dance with the Dragons”, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

Some people can take a break from their problems and forget about them by immersing themselves in a captivating story, only to return to their problems with a much more relaxed and focused mindset. Basically, if you’re stressed, just pick up a good book. 

Research has shown that reading fiction is more effective at reducing stress than listening to music, sipping tea or taking a walk. In fact, stress levels were shown to be reduced by 68% after reading. While your brain is engaged in the story, your heart rate slows down, and your muscles relax. 

As long as you don’t force yourself to read, and you’re not reading any heavy texts, such as legal papers, losing yourself in a book will allow you to neglect your daily worries.

Stimulate cognitive functioning.  

Reading isn’t just a way to cram facts into your head. In general, it rewires the way your brain works. You will become better at picturing detailed scenes, remembering details and thinking through complex scenarios. As a result, reading makes you more knowledgeable, as well as more functionally smart. 

Several scientific studies show that reading actually helps you connect more neurons in your brain. In many cases, people read to get information, but the real value of reading is that it allows you to see things differently.

The science behind reading shows that it does more than enrich your brain with information; it changes the way your brain functions for the better as well. Your brain needs movement just as much as your body. Thus, I believe reading is the best workout for your brain in that respect. It’s demanding in a neurological way, plus it requires concentration and intellectual activity. 

By mentally stimulating your brain through reading, studies have shown that it can slow down the process of dementia and Alzheimer disease as well as keep your brain sharp as you age. So, find the time for reading just like you would for a morning run. 

Chin-Erdene is an international student at Seattle Central College and a member of the Editorial Board of Seattle Collegian. He is currently pursuing a degree in computer science and linguistics and aspiring to become a linguistics engineer in the future. As he is from Mongolia, he only started to learn English in the latter part of his high school years, from which he developed a deep passion for linguistics and language structures. He wants to use the applications of computer science and mathematics to analyze written and spoken languages from computational perspectives. In his free time, he loves reading science fiction books, baking sourdough bread, and watching action/sci-fi movies. He is a big fan of Goerge R.R Martin and J.R.R Tolkein.

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