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National Reading Month kicked off March 2 with Read Across America celebrations designed to show children just how exciting reading can be. But the goal of devoting an entire month to this uplifting and educational pastime is to encourage Americans of all ages to read—every day.
While senior citizens are long past their school years, making time to read offers many benefits beyond becoming fluent readers. Consider these advantages next time you settle in with a bestseller or pull a grandchild onto your lap to share a favorite storybook.
Spending time with a book is a wonderful way relieve stress, and to lower your heart rate and blood pressure as a result. And if you choose to read as a precursor to turning out the light at night, you may also experience more relaxing sleep—unless, of course, you choose a blood-curdling mystery for your bedtime reading. It’s also wise to choose a traditional hardcover or paperback book instead of reading from an e-reader or tablet, if your goal is to relax your way into sleep. Screens can actually rob you of restful shuteye.
But these aren’t the only reasons you should consider spending time each day with a good book. Reading exercises the human brain, improving its function in several ways. Well-read brains have a heightened ability for language, improved visual and auditory processes and better attention spans. Reading also triggers the brain to react to the words you are reading. For example, if you read about the fragrance of lilacs wafting on a breeze, the parts of your brain that register scent are activated.
Scientists have found that reading boosts brainpower and emotional intelligence. In children, strong reading skills are associated with higher intelligence in later life. Readers also tend to be more empathetic—perhaps because they’ve been exposed to the emotions and circumstances of others in the pages of the books they read.
Voracious readers also boast 50% larger vocabularies and 50% more fact-based knowledge than non-readers. Reading, along with other activities that exercise the brain, can slow mental decline in the elderly by as much as 32%. One study of 300 older adults found that those who were regular readers developed fewer physical indications of dementia.
Habitual reading might even extend your life—by 23 months, according to a Yale University study. However, all written words are not created equal. Skimming the news or pausing to read a quick article doesn’t provide your brain with the same workout it gets from reading literary fiction. The brains of people reading Jane Austen novels showed increased blood flow to areas that control executive function and cognition, according to a Stanford University study.
Given the easy access to both books and companions who love to discuss them, there is no excuse to skip the enjoyable exercise reading provides. The library at GreenFields has many volumes to choose from, as well as book groups with whom to share them.
Need more inspiration? The Geneva Public Library District not only offers thousands of large-print books to make your reading a breeze, but also librarians who are happy to offer book recommendations or research tips by phone, video or in person. Can’t wait to get started on your next reading adventure? You might want to peruse this list of 100 books to read over a lifetime or these suggestions curated for senior citizens.
Then get lost in a good book. Your brain will thank you for it!