Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Reading for the Health of It

That's right! Reading is good for your health. At this week's Thursday Noon Hour Club, SPL's Melanie Kindrachuk will be discussing how reading interacts with all aspects of health.  Melanie is an avid reader and shares her book reviews on a blog called The Indextrious Reader

Some key health benefits of reading that Melanie will be highlighting in her talk include:

Physical Health
The obvious physical health benefit of reading is in its power to strengthen and develop our brain. As we read we create new neural connections and pathways; our brain literally expands. Having higher numbers of neural pathways helps us to ward off the effects of brain diseases like Alzheimer's or dementia, or to recover from traumatic brain injuries. The brain has more options to rewire itself to keep us symptomless for longer in the case of these situations.
But reading also benefits us physiologically in a number of ways. Reciting certain types of poetry can benefit our blood pressure. And reading has been shown to be one of the best and quickest ways to experience stress relief and relaxation. Reading can benefit our immune response as well.

Mental Health
The psychology of reading is a key area of study right now, with a great number of researchers located in Canada (with a wonderful website, OnFiction.ca) Reading in groups is one method to combat depression or social isolation, with studies showing that the act of reading results in some of the same benefits as medication can give a person. And a book serves as a kind of cheap virtual reality machine: parts of the brain that light up while reading about an activity are the same parts that light up when a person is actually performing that activity.

Emotional/Social Health
One of the biggest effects of reading lies in the emotional, or social, realm: reading about other lives and experiencing life through another perspective builds empathy. Empathy is the key to building a society that is cohesive and supportive for all its citizens.
Literature gives us one of the only ways that we can enter another person's mind and see through their eyes, have access to their thoughts, and truly experience their perceptions. Reading a novel gives us a way to experience unfamiliar situations or to find others who've had the same difficulties as we have and to learn how they've dealt with them. A book can give us the words to name our experience, and in this way, make it easier to comprehend and communicate. This is the principle behind bibliotherapy.

Spiritual Health
It may seem strange to think of reading as benefiting us spiritually. But the process of reading itself, that reaching out which we must do to encounter another, separate and distant mind -- that of the writer -- can be considered a spiritual process. That mind can never be fully known, but we can encounter it and strive to get outside ourselves briefly. Spiritual disciplines like our capacity for attention, our ability to listen, or our mental organization and alertness are also mirrored in reading; we build these strengths when we read narrative fiction.
So come learn more on Thursday March 22, 12-1pm, Library Auditorium. $1pp.  For the full Thursday Noon Hour Club Spring line up visit our website

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