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  • Writer's pictureSarah Zakzouk

"Reading is to the Mind, What Exercise is to the Body"

Updated: Nov 9, 2022

“Reading Is To The Mind, What Exercise Is To The Body” – a famous quote by English essayist, poet and playwright, Joseph Addison, pertaining to the value of the mind. But do we really exercise our minds enough?

We know there’s a pretty big fitness movement going on right now, and we have so many options for whatever style of sport we do: MMA, CrossFit, spinning, Pilates – the list really is endless, and it’s great that sport is so easy to integrate into our routines. You may go to the gym five days a week, but how often does your brain get a good workout? Or time to relax for that matter? That’s where the books come into play.

I have always been a bit of a geek, and reading has been my go-to for many different reasons: to de-stress, to connect, to disconnect, to learn, to grow. I studied Literature at university, so reading was pretty much a given, and although fiction was my thing for so many years, I read a lot of non-fiction these days – mostly relating to my career, and keeping on top of trends and key leaders in the industry, but I do love the feeling of just sitting down and reading a good book.

Reading is a form of exercise – for the brain that is (unless you read at the treadmill, and you’ve got that whole mind-body thing going on). Just as we go for a jog to exercise our cardiovascular system, reading is a workout for the mind and can help with memory function, stress, concentration, and loads of other things if you give it regular training.

1. Helps Improve Memory Remembering all those characters, plots, sub plots, keeps your brain working, and for every memory to be stored a new neural pathway is formed, so you’re constantly building these connections, and strengthening the existing pathways by rehearsing the facts in your head, as you progress deeper into the story and the plot thickens.

2. Keeps Your Brain In Shape Just like our bodies, our brain is an organ that will age with time, and is directly affected by how we use it. We exercise physically to keep our bodies in shape, get our endorphins pumping, our muscles contracting, whereas intellectual stimulation provides the exercise that our brains require to stay fit. There are many ways to train the brain and improve cognitive performance – whether it’s riddles or maths quizzes that get your juices flowing. Poetry is an interesting one for me – what with all that thinking about the deeper meaning of words: the metaphors, the allusions, the verse – it keeps the brain active and helps with the overall elasticity as it remains flexible in its thinking. Thank you A Level Literature.

3. Can Reduce Stress Levels Research has shown that reading can help to alleviate stress – this is because it takes you out of the zone; it’s a method of escapism, removing you from your current stressors or anxieties. But it doesn’t have to be fictional, you could read something informative, factual, which makes you think and distracts you from whatever is giving you grief, letting you chill out a little.

4. May Improve Emotional Intelligence & Empathy Think about those complex characters you have dissected and unravelled throughout the story, and how you internalise the words that pull you into the narrative – the author’s craft is to make you feel like you are experiencing their personalities, their emotions, their struggles, and how they deal with them in the story. There is an element of seeing your own experiences in certain characters that perhaps identify with your own, or with certain situations you have been in. Empathising with the characters may help you to see real life situations with more patience or empathy.

5. Aids Concentration Have you noticed how little people concentrate these days? It’s true – thanks to our digital age of rapid content consumption across multiple channels. I am not saying I don’t enjoy consuming all this information and having it available at my fingertips, but the constant scrolling and darting from one screen to the next, (although great for my multi-tasking abilities), sucks for my concentration. Many people opt instead for audiobooks, so they can continue with whatever else they were doing, but if you’re going to work on that concentration, I recommend getting a book (one with actual pages), turning off the gadgets and just focusing on the text.

6. Improves Our Knowledge Well knowledge is power, right? It’s certainly essential for our personal growth, and it’s always handy to have some useful little facts or conversation starters when you’re at a networking event, or slightly awkward dinner party and you’re looking for ways to break the ice. Reading helps us to expand our vocabulary, learn new words, new meanings – again a great way to hold stimulating conversations, to network, to advance your career – maybe date someone who will actually hold your interest, or challenge it with a whole host of great words. Reading helps to build confidence and opens doors.

7. Helps With Critical Thinking Was it well written? Did the story flow? How did the characters develop both personally and within the overall plot? When analysing a text we look for hidden meaning, perhaps the story was a ‘whudunnit’ with a gripping mystery to work out – it all helps to challenge the brain and get us to think analytically about the information we are presented with.

8. It Can Be Motivating Reading doesn’t have to be escapist, it can be reflective too. What we read may help us in real life; characters or storylines may inspire us to embark on an adventure we may not have considered, or perhaps we will find the motivation to start that business we’ve always dreamt of having.

9. May Help You Sleep Better We’re constantly bombarded by bright lights – whether it’s our phone screens, laptops or the TV, the light gives our brains a cue that it’s time to be awake. A good way to prepare the mind for rest is to switch off the digital devices and read a book – ideally nothing too stimulating, so just choose an easy read and it may help you doze off. If you’re an e-book fan, then choose a tablet that has a dim light option to keep things nice and mellow.

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