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HELBLING READERS BLOG

Read to be healthy

March 29, 2021 by Maria Cleary

How can reading contribute to our physical and mental health? Although it is widespread knowledge that reading is good for our cognitive and emotional development, it is always a good idea to take a proper look at the health benefits of reading. 

Talk to your students

We like telling our students that they should all read, and most of them actually do read regularly, even more than we imagine. It is still a good idea to talk about the benefits of reading with them.Ask your students to finish these sentences in their own words:

  • Reading is …
  • Reading makes me … (e.g. smarter).
  • When I read, I … (e.g. feel happy).
  • Reading can help me ...

Then, talk about how they think reading can help them in their lives. Here you can have a wide perspective and collect lots of responses. Students might talk about learning new subjects, exploring new places, learning new languages, and finding essential information. After a short discussion, you can introduce the idea of reading and health. 

Here are some ideas of things you can share:

Reading and health

Physical health

When we talk about health, we talk about both physical and mental health, and we firmly believe that reading contributes to both these aspects. Let’s see some benefits supported by research.

  • Reading can delay the onset of dementia and can help keep the brain active. When you read, you blend mental simulations (activities, sights and sounds) with your own memories. This activity stimulates neural pathways. 
  • People can help with relaxation, and it can reduce stress and sleep disorders. Indeed, instead of looking at our phones, we should read before going to bed to avoid too much blue light. (Source: 
  • Reading can add years to your life. Research found that people who are 50 or older with regular reading habits are at a 20% lower risk of dying over the next 12 years compared with those who weren’t readers. Interestingly enough, this difference was regardless of race, education, state of health, wealth, marital status, and depression. 
  • Taking reading one step further, people can join a reading circle or book club. Not only do these groups motivate us to read more, they also contribute to our well-being. 

And let’s admit it, it’s great to be off-screen and spend some time in the company of interesting characters, visiting new places and having adventures we’d never imagined possible.

Illustration by Viola Niccolai from Deborah's Dreams. © Helbling Languages

How do your students read? Have they got a favourite reading place or hideaway and what is their favourite reading position? Do remind them to stay comfortable while they are reading:

  • Make sure there is  sufficient light. You don’t want to damage your eyesight.
  • Pay attention to posture. Change body positions and don’t strain your neck!
 

Mental health

The connection between reading and mental health has been widely researched and studied, and one of the most comprehensive handbooks is Reading and Mental Health (edited by Josie Billington). A quick glance at the different chapters headings in the book shows us the widespread benefits of reading on mental health: depression, anxiety, psychiatric treatment and psychoanalysis. Apart from the clinical aspects, reading also creates a better sense of self and identity. Reading can help us overcome fears and biases, and feel happier and more satisfied. Generally speaking, reading either a happy or a sad book contributes to our emotional development and well-being. 

When children read, they are exposed to different life situations and settings in a safe environment. You can read about difficult topics with children as long as you also discuss their reading experiences and all the questions that arise during the reading process. In a way, reading can function like a puppet which speaks and has experiences for us. This way, processing and discussing difficult situations becomes less threatening. Similarly, observing different life stories as an adult through the act of reading can put our own problems in a different perspective. We may even be able to face our own difficulties and learn good practices from fictional characters.

There are a lot of stories about how reading helped and saved people, and we are not only thinking about self-help books. When someone is going through a rough patch, a book can be revelatory and can give guidance. And when we feel down or anxious, reading about people in similar situations can help us add some humour or compassion to our own sense of self. 

When you talk about the benefits of reading, ask your students how reading can help someone who is going through a difficult period. Can they remember stories in which people faced and overcame something challenging? Classical literature is full of stories which widen our horizons and see the manifold reality of life, just think about stories like Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Little Women and The Railway Children. 

Bibliotherapy

Bibliotherapy or book/reading therapy is an ancient form of healing for mental and emotional problems. Over the centuries, this sort of well-planned reading therapy became part of medical practice all over the world. By World War I, bibliotherapy had become a well-developed approach to help soldiers overcome stress and depression. Librarians, physicians and nurses worked together in developing reading programs, and libraries had a significant role in this.

In Lampedusa, the tiny Italian island which is often the first port of arrival for thousands of refugees and asylum seekers hoping for new lives in Europe, IBBY (the International Board on Books for Young People) has set up a library with a vast collection of wordless picture books (silent books) which are used to welcome and provide a common language to the children who arrive.

Today bibliotherapy has a widespread use in psychological, affective, cognitive and psychiatric therapy. You will probably find a bibliotherapy association in your own country with regular conferences and events organized for anyone interested. 

What to read for health?

If we could prescribe reading to our students, we would probably not tell them what exactly to read and we wouldn’t even give them a set dosage. We would just say that reading regularly (at least 10-30 minutes a day) will contribute to every aspect of their health. And what should they read? Anything that gets them hooked on reading. What we find important though is that you give your students the opportunity to share their thoughts about reading in some form. You can have discussions, students can keep a reading journal, or they can simply take a photo of their favourite books and recommend them to other students. 

If you start browsing our catalogue, you will find easier and more serious topics for every age and level from young readers through teens to adults. Start browsing and curate a selection of books for your students today. 

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