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Read To Your Health

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Read to Your Health

On the eve of 2009, it is time to draw up that list of resolutions for the new year.  Many people resolve year after year to lose weight or otherwise to take better care of their health.  Reading is an excellent activity to help achieve these health-related resolutions.

Seriously? How so? 

The act of reading for pleasure slows down respiration, heart rate, and skin temperature, and provides the perfect bridge into sleep and dreams.  Inadequate sleep is a known factor contributing to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, all conditions on the rise in American society.  By making a little time for bedtime reading, you insure a better and more healthful night’s sleep and are more likely to feel like meeting the challenges of the new day.  Reading may be the ideal sleeping pill and, if you become addicted, well, as Martha Stewart says, “It’s a good thing.”  And, if your kids are reading by flashlight under the covers, that’s a good thing, too, so pretend you don’t know.

Reading also prepares the body to ward off disease.  In a study at the Center for Occupational and Environmental Neurology in Baltimore, neurologist Margit L. Bleecker found that factory workers exposed to lead suffered far less mental impairment if they were good readers.  It is not that these workers were smarter, but that their reading gave them more cognitive reserve, that is, better or more resilient neural connections in the brain, which allowed them to perform 2.5 times better on tests of memory, attention, and concentration.  Dr. Bleecker  concluded that the brain is like a muscle, and exercising it strengthens it and makes it better able to counter the ravages of disease and poisoning.

Another study found that reading daily predicts improved aging and reduced mortality among men from a cohort of community-dwelling 70-year-olds.

Reading, along with other mental and physical activity, can help prevent or slow Alzheimer’s disease.  According to a news report on CNN, scientists now understand that the brain continually rewires and adapts itself. In the teenage years, large brain-cell growth continues, and even older adults can grow new neurons.  Scientists at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, studied 550 people and found that those less mentally and physically active in middle age were three times more likely to get Alzheimer's.  Reading habits between the ages of 6 and 18 can also predict risk of getting the disease.
Research has also shown that reading aloud and arithmetic calculation stimulate brain function, and promote cognitive rehabilitation of dementia patients.

Besides having a proven positive physiological impact on the body, pleasure reading allows the mind to relax.  Stories have the power to transport a reader to other worlds and to take the mind away from daily stress and anxiety.  Some medical practices in England are beginning to include book discussion activities to encourage socialization and mental health.  (No wonder we feel so refreshed and stimulated after our book discussions at the library!)

Consultant occupational physician at Bristol Royal Infirmary Dr Robin Philipp is a firm believer in the healing power of poetry, having found that reading poetry to patients and encouraging them to write it appears to have a calming effect. Philipp is to undertake a clinical trial of poetry therapy as part of a World Health Organization project on mental health. Another research study in Germany found that reciting rhythmic poetry, such as that by Longfellow, can calm the heartbeat and give the heart muscle a rest.

So, resolve to include reading in your evening routine in the new year.  In fact, this should be so pleasant and painless that you may want to get an early start.  How about tonight?  Read in the new year.  Want some suggestions, or need a book?  Call the library at 988-2541.

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Online collection of animated, talking picture books to encourage reading in children.


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