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The health benefits of regular reading

Here's a simple question you should ask more often, because it could help you increase your quality of life, delay neurological aging and even live longer: how many hours did you spend reading books last week? The same application was sent to thousands of people in the United States every two years, starting in 1992. All this was part of a study entitled Health and Retirement Study (HRS) carried out by the University of Michigan and soon forgotten because it was considered weak.

In 2016, however, researchers at the Yale School of Public Health decided to retrieve that data and analyse the answers to that 12-year survey. The reading habits of those more than 3,600 men and women over 50 years of age showed a very precise pattern: people who had read novels, or at least non-fiction books, in poetry or prose, for only 30 minutes a day, had lived on average two years longer than people who had read nothing.

The importance of regular reading for all ages

The benefits of reading have also emerged in subsequent studies, which have shown that six-month-old children who read books with their parents several times a week show stronger literacy skills four years later, achieve higher scores in intellectual quotient tests, and achieve better jobs than others. But recent research suggests that reading could be just as important in adulthood. In short, one reading a day could lessen visits to the doctor, the neurologist at least.
Reading is able to stimulate the functioning of the brain in big ways. Senile dementia, Alzheimer's and other diseases related to neurological ageing occur much less frequently in readers than in other patients. In a nutshell: the power of speech increases the power of the brain.

A few pages a day keeps the doctor away

What surprised most of the Yale School of Public Health team was the profound difference in results between book readers and those who only read magazines. Readers of novels, in fact, have reaped enormous benefits that have hardly been seen at all in magazine readers. The answer is simple: a book stimulates deep thought and neuronal connections, opening the mind in the true sense of the word. For example, researchers say that reading a book forces the brain to think critically and make connections between chapters, as well as making comparisons with the outside world. These connections literally forge new pathways between brain regions in all four lobes and both hemispheres. Over time, these neural networks can promote more rapid thinking and can provide greater defence against the worst effects of cognitive decay. A benefit that has not been found in readers of news and magazines because, it is believed, reading the latter does not stimulate the neurological system so much in depth. Is the secret therefore fantasy and creative thinking?
It has also been shown that reading novels increases empathy and emotional intelligence. In fact, a 2013 study found that book readers showed, even after just one week, an increase in empathy, unlike readers of news only, among whom empathy levels decrease. Then the study went on to say that the development of empathy and emotional intelligence then leads to an increase in positive human interactions, which in turn can lower stress levels by increasing happiness, both factors that help to live longer and healthier.
Finally, according to a study conducted in 2009 by the University of Sussex, six minutes of reading per day is enough to decrease stress levels by 68%. The activity of reading slows down the heart rate and relieves tension in the muscles. Relaxation, the relative lowering of stress levels and the mind that wanders through fantasy worlds is then an excellent prelude that prepares the body, and the mind, for sleep, making you wake up more rested and, consequently, happier and healthier.

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