Is reading also healthy for you?

Is reading also healthy for you?

Intellectual growth aside, being a voracious reader also comes with certain important advantages



By Dr. Ayaz Virji, Health and wellness director, NYUAD

Published: Fri 23 Aug 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 23 Aug 2019, 2:00 AM

You know books are good for your brain. What you may not know is that they're healthy for you in other ways as well. The modern era has seen some of the fastest technological advancements in history. There is a computer in every pocket and immediate access to goods and information, not to mention Uber cabs available at your beck and call. Popular television shows are released in full seasons, allowing consumers to become efficient even in their consumption of entertainment.
Unfortunately, parallel to this trend is an unprecedented rise in physical and mental illnesses. The obesity epidemic has tripled over the past 30 years, leaving 40 per cent of the Gulf population at an unhealthy weight, the UAE being the fifth heaviest nation in the world. Thirteen per cent of the Gulf population suffers from mental illness, including anxiety and depression. The medical profession is finding it hard to keep up. New conditions like FOMO (fear of missing out), internet anxiety disorder, and digital eye strain are making their way into medical literature.
Is it possible that books are the new apple, perhaps not quite one a day, though? Interestingly enough, something as simple as reading a good book, maybe even an average book, is packed with health benefits. Research from the University of Sussex suggests that daily reading can reduce stress by up to 68 per cent, even more than listening to music, drinking a cup of tea or taking a walk!
Books improve verbal IQ and stimulate parts of the brain related to language and memory. Reading delays cognitive decline in the elderly and has protective benefits against Alzheimer's disease. Contrast the beneficial effect on the brain from reading to the negative effects of excess TV viewing.
A study from University College London showed that three-and-a-half hours a day or more of television-watching doubled memory decline in adults. A well-known study from Tohoku University in Japan showed a correlation to TV-watching with aggression, reduced attention span and reduced verbal competence in children.
For those struggling to lose weight, adding a good novel to your diet and exercise regimen might help! A study from Duke University showed that reading an inspiring novel significantly helped adolescent girls achieve weight loss success at six months compared to those who didn't read. Weight loss also reduces future risk of diabetes, heart disease and sleep apnea.
Reading boosts emotional intelligence. By taking a long-form look into a character's mind and circumstances, it becomes easier to see yourself in a character's actions. Beyond just entertainment, you find inspiration and empathy. My book Love Thy Neighbor is the true story of my partnership with a pastor to spread the word of empathy and inclusion in battling Islamophobia in Midwestern towns. In writing the book, I share with the reader so many intimate, uncomfortable feelings and mental conflicts that would have otherwise been lost in quick visual imagery.
Beyond the pleasant, almond scent of a new book or even the anticipatory excitement of what lies within, books benefit us in many ways. It's not a coincidence that the brightest minds of past and present were avid readers. From Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey, the love of books is a common thread. Even Warren Buffet, the second richest man in the world, credits his success to what he learned from reading. They didn't realise they were getting healthier in the process. Or did they?
wknd@khaleejtimes.com


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