The health benefits of … reading!

As our phones, tablets, etc., take up more and more space in our lives and Netflix series reign supreme over our imagination (and our parties …), choosing books (paper, what’s more!) Takes on allure. an act of resistance, shrouded in a subversive aura. Our compatriots are not mistaken since, according to the barometer “The French and reading” 2018, 60% of them declare themselves regular readers. And if Madame prefers practical books or novels, Monsieur is more fond of comics, scientific or historical publications. But what do we find in reading that we don’t get elsewhere? We know it: it allows us to explore the world without leaving our sofa. But it doesn’t stop there: research teaches us that doing it regularly can also save us many visits to the doctor or shrink! Anxiety appeased, brain stimulated, increased sociability, longer life expectancy…: when will our summer sagas and other tests be reimbursed by Social Security?

That happiness !

Readers are happier than those who never open a book! This is the conclusion reached in 2016 by work carried out by the University of Liverpool (United Kingdom): lovers of letters generally say they are more satisfied with their life. Normal: reading fiction or essays, works of personal development or biographies gives us the keys to face existence and fully enjoy the joys it brings. It is also on this observation that “bibliotherapy” is based, a therapy widely used in Anglo-Saxon countries which prescribes a list of titles to patients rather than drugs. Its goal ? Calm subjects’ anxiety, strengthen their psychological well-being and help them find their way. Régine Detambel, librarian and author of Books take care of us *, explains the principle: “Thanks to a story, a fragment, a simple sentence, our experience sometimes reveals itself, becomes explicit in a luminous way and is transformed. The text is then an opportunity to renew, to recompose the representations that we have of our own existential adventure, of our inner world and of our link to the outside world. “For example, nearly 30% of people polled by the University of Liverpool study said they had improved their lives after discovering a striking text, finding the strength to embark on a new professional adventure or to leave a career. toxic relationship.

A anxiolytic natural

Do obsessive thoughts keep circling in your head? To calm them down, rather than swallow a Xanax, immerse yourself in the soft drug of an addictive work of fiction. Research has shed light on the anxiolytic virtues of reading: it only takes six minutes for your muscle tension to drop and your heart rate to slow. A 2009 study by the University of Sussex (UK) showed that reading reduces stress levels by 68%. And that it turns out to be much more effective than listening to music or going for a walk. Indeed, when the reader’s consciousness is gripped by the story, the brain is fully mobilized by the experiences that the characters go through, exactly as if it were actually living them. With all cognitive functions occupied, negative thoughts no longer have the mental space needed to develop. Result: anxiety is kept at bay.

An agitator of neurons

“Reading is an act of permanent creation,” wrote Daniel Pennac **. However, it is difficult to believe that the brain of a person immersed in a novel works at depth, so much does it seem passive to the one who observes it. And yet: not only does it mobilize our cognitive abilities, but it also promotes new neural connections. Memory, concentration, analysis, deduction are used. According to a study published in the journal Neurology, this brain activity could thus slow down cognitive decline. The risks of developing mental degeneration are reduced by 32% in people who, at an advanced age, continue to read almost every day, compared to those who abstain from this great pleasure.

The key to longevity

Eat a balanced diet, practice regular physical activity and… practice reading: what if that was the key to living a long and healthy life? This is what a study presented by Yale University (United States) revealed: people who spend more than half an hour a day in the company of novels, essays, historical or scientific works … average life expectancy increased by two years, compared to those who just browse magazines or watch TV! The research focused on a group of 3,635 people aged 50 and over who were followed for twelve years. In 2016, test results showed that those who devoted up to 3:30 a week to this activity were 17% less likely to die. A proportion that climbs to 20% for those who devoted more than 3 hours 30 minutes per week to their favorite authors …

Friends galore

You might think that the stories that captivate us take us away from the real world. It is not so. On the contrary, words bring us closer to our contemporaries. Indeed, reading novels promotes empathy: these are the same areas of the brain that activate when we understand a fictional character or when we interact with a real person. A study led by cognitive science researchers David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, published in the journal Science in 2013, showed the value of regularly confronting the texts of great authors. The (re) discovery of Victor Hugo, Virginia Woolf or Leon Tolstoï allows us to develop the “theory of the mind”: it is about our capacity to attribute to others thoughts, intentions, emotions, and to understand, or even to anticipate the behavior of our interlocutors. A valuable quality that helps us manage our relationships better and nurture more lasting friendships. Because if reading – especially that of your favorite magazine! – first brings you back to your interiority, then it is to better project yourself towards the outside world where you will advance stronger, more serene, more alert… Indulge in books, this is definitely the best advice we can give you !

* Ed. Actes Sud, 2015.

** In “Like a novel”, ed. Gallimard, 1992.


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