A person walks past library shelves while balancing a stack of books as tall as they are.

Reading is Fundamental to Brain Health

We hear the research news on ways to battle our multiple sclerosis through physical exercise. I’ve written about this before, particularly my own personal resistance to doing physical exercise. The mental state I have to be in to get up and move and workout is one I can’t quite conquer.

How can we work out our brains?

During a recent online conversation with Aaron Boster, MD, The Boster Center for Multiple Sclerosis, I posed the question about ways we can do cognitive exercises. You know, those things to stretch our brains and keep them fluid. I expected the usual pep talk about the benefit of getting up and moving, and perhaps a nod toward the cognitive exercises we often hear about such as crossword or Sudoku puzzles or online brain training sites.

Reading is exercise

His response to the question was simple and straightforward and surprised me... We should read books. Yes, remember those things made of paper that require us to hold and turn pages as the storyline develops? It turns out there is lots of good science about the benefit of sitting down with a good book. Keep Reading to Keep Alzheimer's at Bay is just one example of the studies done linking reading to improved cognitive functions, but there isn’t a whole lot written about MS and reading.

How does reading exercise the brain?

Reading books requires the brain to exercise in a different way. And we all know that exercise is good for us. Reading requires our brains to take mere words and shape them into ideas and emotions. Reading requires our brain to work out the neural pathways in areas that otherwise might remain dormant.

Physically turning those pages

Flipping those sheets isn’t just a workout for our fingers, it seems there is a true physical connection between our touch of the pages and our brain and emotions. Why the Smart Reading Device of the Future May Be … Paper is a fascinating essay in Wired online that talks more about this difference.

Not just a solitary activity

Dr. Boster took his ‘read a book’ advice one step further – he said after reading a book we should discuss it with someone else. This act of discussing what we read requires the brain to retrieve from our memory the text and put it into the context of a conversation. And there is the added benefit of socializing with others, rather than the solitary act of reading alone. Book clubs through the local library or just casual conversations among friends can be a great experience to increase the joy and benefit of reading books. In 8 Awesome Benefits of Being in a Book Club the author also notes that in addition to great snacks, book clubs can extend your life by keeping you socially active and engaged with others.

The benefits of reading

We learned to read early because we knew it can open avenues in education and expand our imagination. It turns out reading does much more in keeping our brains hard-wired as we age, and we should all put down our electronic devices and pick up a book (or magazine) and just read.

Wishing you well,


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