The Asset of Reading

Recreational Reading in History 

With fiction books on the rise in the late 1600s and throughout the 1700s, the term novel become a household word and most everyone knew what a novel was by the late 1700s. It was during this time period—and into the 1800s— that most popular, modern-day genres were born.

By the mid/late 1800’s teenagers were reading most any novel they could get their hands on. This of course drew the attention of concerned parents who feared that reading these fictitious tales could potentially be harmful and unhealthy.

Today, we know the opposite is true. However, reading for entertainment has been replaced by TV, movies, video games, music, social networking and a number of other—instantly gratifying—technologically based past times. Few of which, if any, have been found to benefit the mind and body in the way that reading does.

We all know that reading is a great intellectual exercise and sharpens the mind in general. Unfortunately, what people read today is largely work or school related, an article of research, an email, a street sign, a bill, much of which is less than interesting. This also leaves the benefits of recreational reading to be sadly, un-experienced.

Those who read books have not only discovered the adventure and wonder of it, they have experienced the many, invaluable advantages it has to offer. 

Aside from the entertainment and recreational value of reading a good book, I have outlined 4 excellent advantages of doing so.

1 Reduces stress 

“Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.” – Fernando Pessoa

By allowing one to escape from life, at least for a little while, reading a good book lowers the heart rate and physically relaxes. When absorbed in reading, studies show that tension eases and the state of mind changes. This is due to the mind being taken away from the otherwise worrisome matters that arise in life and create tension.

In 2009 the consultancy company Mindlab International at the University of Sussex did a research on a group of volunteers. They were put through a variety of mental tests and physical exercises, and then subjected to various forms of relaxation. Here are the results.

  • Reading reduced stress levels by 68%. Results were noticeable in as little as 6 minutes of silent reading. It brought the stress level in some volunteers to a lower point than what it was when they started.
  • Listening to music reduced stress levels by 61%
  • A cup of tea or coffee lowered them by 54%
  • Taking a walk reduced stress levels by 42%
  • Playing video games brought them down by 21% from their highest level but still left the volunteers with heart rates above their starting point.

Dr. David Lewis conducted the test and said this of it…”This is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.”

2 Expands vocabulary

According to a study performed in 2001 by Anne Cunningham and Keith Stanovich reading a novel subjects the reader to a wider range of words than other sources, such as television, radio, magazines and other forms of literature.

Studies have also shown that people who read on a regular basis are better at articulating what they want to say. likely because of a more diversified vocabulary.

U.S. researchers used fMRI scanners on a group of volunteers. The experiment was conducted over a 19-day period, a time in which all 12 of the participants read the same novel, Pompeii—by Robert Harris. After reading the book, the scanners showed a heightened connectivity in an area of the brain associated with understanding language. Even though they weren’t reading the book at the time of the scan.

3 Improves writing

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” -Stephen King

Along with improving one’s ability to comprehend written material, reading expands the knowledge of how to correctly use new words.

The advice of many prominent writers—to aspiring writers—is to read more. Reading exposes us to other forms, voices, writing styles, and it ultimately helps us improve by exposing us to better writing than our own.

Reading benefits our own writing in more ways than one might think.

  • provides a wider vocabulary for your own writing
  • provides a great understanding of grammar rules without learning them
  • broadens the imagination
  • good source of inspiration
  • provides one with more knowledge about their genre
  • helps one learn from successful authors in their genre

                                                                                                                                                              4 Improves Memory 

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” —Joseph Addison               

Studies have shown that reading is more neurobiologically demanding than viewing and processing images. Whether reading about an event or experiencing it first hand, the same neurological regions of the brain are stimulated. Put simply, the brain does not make a real distinction between reading about an experience and actually living it.

This is why we can often times recall a good book long after we’ve read it, whereas a movie of the same caliber can be vastly forgotten in that same time period.

A study conducted at the University of Waterloo has found that reading aloud forces the words into long term memory. This study determined that speaking and hearing one’s self has the greatest impact when reading. However, the active involvement in reading alone, benefits the memory.

A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that older people who read regularly are two and a half times less likely to have Alzheimer’s. While that doesn’t mean reading alone will prevent Alzheimer’s, it does suggest that there’s a correlation between intellectual pursuits, like reading, and prevention.


As this post has shown, reading is a very healthy past time. Interested in recreational reading? There’s no better time than the present to start. Books also make great gifts, purchase one for someone important in your life and you’ll be doing them a greater service than they will likely realize.

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