Health Benefits of Reading
authored by Taylor Appel, Registered Herbalist (AHG) | Mederi Center Apothecary Supervisor
When was the last time you read a great book, like a novel that ignited your imagination and left you feeling emotionally enthralled? For many of us, these kinds of moments are few and far between, as the tactile experience of reading seems to have taken a back seat to other more technological alternatives, like audio books and podcasts. It may surprise you that reading isn’t just a relaxing activity – it’s actually good for your health! So you might want to consider picking up that book you’ve been meaning to read but just haven’t found the time. With another month or so left in summer, now’s the perfect time to get reading!
Research shows that reading exerts a positive impact on longevity and offers many benefits to neurological health and cognitive function.1 From increased memory capabilities to decreased instances of Alzheimer’s disease, reading positively impacts the way our brains create synapses, further optimizing our neurological function. Evidence also suggests that reading quickly expands our vocabulary, develops our analytical thinking and problem-solving skills, and improves focus for both short and long-term tasks.1,2
Beyond the numerous physical benefits of reading, the act itself can provide a much-needed mental vacation from our busy lives. Picking up a captivating novel not only nurtures our cognitive health, it also nourishes us deeply as we take time to delve into another world of literary imagination. Finding moments to wind-down and embrace the tranquility of reading can be transformative for both our emotional and spiritual well-being, and another way to increase our overall vitality. As our founder Donnie Yance expresses so eloquently, “optimal health includes intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being and is supported by engaging in attitudes and behaviors that enhance our quality of life.”
Luckily for us, modern time has endowed us with more novels and books than we could ever imagine, with so much knowledge and wisdom at our fingertips. But how can we sustainably integrate a reading routine into our lives if one is not present already? We may feel that there is too little time or there are too many distractions to enjoy the gifts of reading, but by simply implementing a few strategies, you may find yourself cruising through that list of books that has been on your mind for years!
Three Tips to Becoming a Regular Reader:
Tip #1: Have books regularly available. My personal favorite (and potentially cliché) place to enjoy a few pages of a novel is on the couch, first thing in the morning with a cup of tea (see below for herbs that pair well with reading). Having at least two or three books in convenient places, such as the living room table or kitchen counter, is a physical reminder seen daily that encourages you to be more motivated to read! Another pro tip – keep these books on rotation so there is always a fresh selection within reach.
TIP #2: Make it a habit. Set aside ten minutes a day for reading to start, and slowly increase the time until you reach around thirty minutes daily (or more if you are feeling motivated). By slowly introducing this healthful habit, you can begin to integrate this lifestyle change much more easily.
TIP #3: Eat for brain health. Studies have proven that our brains thrive on healthy fats for a multitude of reasons. Dietary fats, also known as lipids, are vital to the structural make-up and functionality of neurons. They crucially impact our hormone health, and regular intake of healthy fats may reduce the risk of developing certain brain-related diseases. Fish, avocados, and raw dairy are examples of spectacular sources of healthy fats and these foods should be eaten regularly to support optimal brain function.3
Enhance Your Reading with Herbs for Brain Health
There are also a myriad of botanicals that support or enhance cognitive health. These herbs are great to include while exploring your new reading routine. They can be taken as a supplement, brewed as a tea, or used as an extract. A few of my favorite brain-boosting herbs include:
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): Long regarded as the herb of remembrance, this aromatic and savory herb supports brain health. In fact, research suggests that rosemary may be beneficial for those with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as for those with poor sleep quality. Rosemary is also found to increase mental stamina and provide enhanced focus, making it a perfect companion while tackling a longer novel or one that acquires close attention.4,5
- Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica): This traditional Ayurvedic herb has been utilized for centuries to combat memory and nervous system dysregulation by both nourishing and increasing circulation to the brain. The triterpenes of this earthy, subtle tasting herb are the active constituents driving these cognitive-supporting functions. Gotu Kola increases oxygen to the brain, providing an overall benefit to neurological function.5
- Gingko (Gingko biloba): As a remedy utilized for centuries to combat memory and neurological disorders, gingko has the unique ability to regulate acetylcholine levels in the body. Acetylcholine plays a key role in our memory abilities and greatly effects the way our brain cells communicate. Research highlights these findings in conjunction with the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and has found that gingko is both therapeutic for those with this cognitive disorder, as well as for preventing the development of this debilitating condition.5
Reading is an intentional behavior that grants us with the invaluable possession of new knowledge and wisdom. Making time and space for this healthful practice can prove beneficial not only for neurological health, but for the health of our spirit as well. Remember, cultivating health is a multifaceted process and by embracing a routine that further supports your overall health goals, you can move more gracefully toward your highest quality of life. Reading truly enriches mind, body, and spirit!
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- Bavishi A, Slade MD, Levy BR. A chapter a day: Association of book reading with longevity. Soc Sci Med. 2016 Sep;164:44-48. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.07.014. Epub 2016 Jul 18. PMID: 27471129; PMCID: PMC5105607.
- Berns GS, Blaine K, Prietula MJ, Pye BE. Short- and long-term effects of a novel on connectivity in the brain. Brain Connect. 2013;3(6):590-600. doi: 10.1089/brain.2013.0166. Epub 2013 Oct 9. PMID: 23988110; PMCID: PMC3868356.
- Chianese R, Coccurello R, Viggiano A, Scafuro M, Fiore M, Coppola G, Operto FF, Fasano S, Laye S, Pierantoni R, Meccariello R. Impact of Dietary Fats on Brain Functions. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2018;16(7):1059-1085. doi: 10.2174/1570159X15666171017102547. PMID: 29046155; PMCID: PMC6120115.
- Araki R, Sasaki K, Onda H, et al. Effects of Continuous Intake of Rosemary Extracts on Mental Health in Working Generation Healthy Japanese Men: Post-Hoc Testing of a Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2020;12(11):3551. Published 2020 Nov 20. doi:10.3390/nu12113551
- Balch PA, Bell SJ. Prescription for Herbal Healing. Stamford, CT: Bottom Line Books; 2014.