Each and every year I set a reading goal. And each year I try to beat the year before. Competition motivates me, especially competition with myself, and setting a books-per-year goal also helps me hold myself accountable to setting aside time to read each and every day. This year's goal: 50 books. I've read 6 books since the new year, which is 12% of my goal. Not counting the 3-4 books I've started, put aside in favor of starting a new book, and haven't finished yet. The bookish ADD is real, folks.
With a 50 book goal, I know I'm not the norm. Alarming fact: according to the Pew Research Center, about a quarter of American adults report that they haven't read a book (either in part or in it's entirety) in the past year. There are tons of socio-economic factors that probably have a correlative relationship to that statistic, and I'm not going to go into those here...but taking time to read everyday, if you can, is absolutely an act of #soulcare and, even in short bursts, can have transformative effects.
Exhibit A: Reading Heightens Connectivity Within the Brain
I like to think of reading like going to the gym, but for my brain. In a semi-recent study conducted by Emory University, researchers studied the ways that reading impacts our brains even after we put the book down. During their trial, they asked participants to read chunks of a highly engaging novel over 19 days. For the first five days, participants were given fMRI scans to level set and get a sense of their brains in a resting state. For the next nine days, participants read roughly 30 pages at home at night, and then had another fMRI the next morning. Then, for the final five days, participants came in for more resting state fMRI scans. Researchers found "[t]he results showed heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language, on the mornings following the reading assignments. 'Even though the participants were not actually reading the novel while they were in the scanner, they retained this heightened connectivity,' [neuroscientist Gregory] Berns says. 'We call that a ‘shadow activity,’ almost like a muscle memory.'" The implications? Just like hitting the treadmill builds muscles, hitting the books builds active neural connections. The brain is a connection-seeking device and enhanced connectivity can equal enhanced overall brain function.
(source: Clark, Carol. "A Novel Look at How Stories May Change the Brain." eScience Commons. Emory University, 12.17.13).
Exhibit B: Reading Helps with Stress Management
So many websites and journals and books all laud the myriad benefits of meditation, and it turns out reading can help put the brain in a similar trance-like state, allowing the reader to experience feelings of deep relaxation and calm. So if you feel like maybe meditation might not be for you, or if you've had the very common challenge of struggling to quiet your mind during meditation (been there!), carving out downtime to read each day for pleasure might just be the solution. I recently read an article that posited that how we manage our energy, not necessarily how we manage our time, is the key to both performing at a high level and feeling personally engaged by and invested in our work. The author went on to suggest that ensuring that we're regularly taking time to rest and recharge and RELAX is crucial, and reading is the perfect way to make disengagement a healthy daily habit. "Reading reduces or helps us better manage the stress and strain of everyday life. It lowers the heart rate and relaxes muscles. It lowers blood pressure and reduces tension. A 2009 study at the University of Sussex found that reading could reduce stress by up to 68%. According to this study, reading is more effective than other forms of relaxation—even listening to music." (source: Tahmaseb-McConatha Ph.D., Jasmin. "Travelling Companions: The Healing Power of Books." Psychology Today, 2.5.14)
Exhibit C: Reading Helps Us Be the Best Versions of Ourselves
In yet another study involving fMRIs (n.b. I love that my nerdy private pleasure is an entire nerdy area of research!!), researchers noted that the same neurological regions of the brain were active when participants were reading fiction about an experience as would be active if they were going through the experience themselves, which means, as readers, as we're both figuratively and neurologically putting ourselves in the shoes of the characters in the stories we read. Taking this insight a step further, a 2013 study "found that reading literary fiction" specifically "improved participants' results on tests that measured social perception and empathy, which are crucial to 'theory of mind': the ability to guess with accuracy what another human being might be thinking or feeling." (source: Dovey, Ceridwen. "Can Reading Make You Happier?" The New Yorker, 6.9.15.)
Do you really need any more reasons to turn reading into a regular #soulcare practice?
📚What are your favorite fiction reads?📚 👇Let me know in the comments! 👇