Reading and exercising your brain

You may or may not realize this, but I’m a very introverted, shy person. I’m not comfortable in crowds, I don’t like being the center of attention (which is why I don’t have any video posts, although I am considering changing that), and given the choice, I’d rather stay home any day.

Which is why reading is so vital to me. It allows me to do things that my introversion might otherwise prohibit me from doing. It allows me to travel, to experiment, to explore, and to have amazing adventures, all while not leaving my home, or even my chair or my bed. It allows me to experience people, in the form of characters, that I might otherwise never meet, because although I do have friends, it tends to be a rather closeknit circle that has a bouncer who makes sure you don’t get in unless you pass muster. Book characters always pass muster.

As a reader yourself, you probably already understand and identify with a lot of that (maybe not the introversion or the closeknit circle of friends), but did you know the other benefits of reading, or more specifically, reading fiction? Such as that reading can change the way your brain connects to different circuits for at least five days? Or that it activates, at different times, it activates 17 different regions of your brain?

Different styles of reading, such as pleasure reading or close literary reading, gives you different experiences with varying benefits to the brain. That was something I found completely fascinating, and bolstered the theory that I’ve always told my children: it’s important to read a variety of books, from fiction to nonfiction. Of course, I just meant because it would make them well-read and more intelligent, but if it also affects brain function, all the better.

I was particularly intrigued by something I found about ebooks. I’ve seen a lot of research indicating that when you read ebooks, you don’t retain as much about the book, and that without a physical book, you lose a sense of where you are in the book – you can’t as easily find something you previously read in the book, for example, or finishing the book doesn’t feel as satisfying. I’ve always felt that I don’t agree with that, for myself, at least. I always feel the same satisfaction when I finish a book, and while my method of searching for something I read before is different (I remember about what percentage I was at and return that that area, then “flip” through the pages until I find it again), I don’t feel I lose any spatial navigability. I also feel that my Kindle makes it easier for me to read, because of its small size. It’s easier to hold the lightweight Kindle in bed, in a car seat, or anywhere else a thick book might not be convenient.

The back of the Amazon Kindle 2
The back of the Amazon Kindle 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What I really found intriguing about ebooks, though, was that it only takes seven days for your brain to adapt to reading ebooks instead of paperbacks.

Reading expands attention spans. It can help avoid cognitive decline as you start to age, and it also relieves stress. Since stress can also have an effect on your brain function, it makes sense that reading would be an ideal way to deal with it.

I have loved reading for as long as I can remember. There was never a time that I didn’t enjoy sitting down with a good book. But now that I know the benefits of reading, beyond the simple enjoyment of it, I’m even more excited when I get to sit down and lose myself in a great story – or maybe a nonfiction book about…well, who knows?

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