To Read Or Not To Read?

Studies show that reading has a greater effect on mental health that originally thought


“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body”, is what 18th century Essayists Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele wrote, intending for people to remember that reading is just as important to the body as everything else. They couldn’t have been more right. Studies over the last few centuries have proven that reading a good book does much more than transport you to another realm, but also staves off mental illnesses, increases empathy and creativity, and also increases a person’s intelligence in multiple fields.

Brain stimulating activities like reading have been shown to slow down mental decline and illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Dementia. People who have read a lot through their lifetime have shown an increased mental capacity as they’ve aged. “Individuals who read less frequently throughout their life and did not continue to engage their brains in old age experienced a mental decline rate that was 48 percent faster than those who kept their brains active across their lives” (Stacy Kaczmarek, Reading Partners). Reading has even become an aid for many mental health patients, as reading self help books have been a proven method to help the patients cope with their mental illness. In the United Kingdom, doctors have started using bibliotherapy (defined by as “The use of books as therapy in the treatment of mental or psychological disorders”) and have even incorporated required reading as apart of the patient’s prescription. Reading, specifically fiction, also causes people to become more empathetic and self-aware. “As readers become engrossed in a storyline, they empathize with characters to learn their motivations and behavior patterns. This increases a person’s understanding of human behavior…[and] when readers select novels that are set in locations with cultures other than their own, they further develop an awareness of diverse human populations and perspectives” (Stacy Kaczmarek, Reading Partners). Humans learn from example; from a young age we copy facial expressions, speech, and attitudes from our parents and elders but there is only so much we can learn from them before we must find another source. Reading about another’s story and hardships or culture is an easy way for us to learn, and is much more effective than those cheesy empathy lessons they have in elementary school (which no one really listens to).

Reading also helps develop four types of Intelligence: Emotional, Linguistic, Mathematical, and Spatial Intelligence. Emotional intelligence is just a fancy term for empathy and linguistic intelligence applies to improved vocabulary and grammar skills, which we absorb during reading. However, reading has also been linked to increased mathematical abilities, especially in children. “We compared children from the same social backgrounds who achieved similar tested abilities at ages five and 10, and discovered that those who frequently read books at age 10 and more than once a week when they were 16 had higher test results than those who read less,” Dr. Alice Sullivan wrote for The Guardian in the article Reading for fun improves children’s brains, study confirms. Lastly, reading a book can also help with spatial intelligence, which is one’s ability to perceive how distances and directions interact. This is required for building, planning, reading maps, and even sports. According to The National Reading Campaign, reading a book helps in this as you’ll become “cognizant of where you are in the story on linear and temporal lines”.

So why don’t many people, specifically younger students, seem to enjoy reading? Amy Eidenschink, a fifth grade English teacher at Sand Creek Elementary School, said that if she had to guess, she would say 70 percent of her students enjoy reading if they have a choice and 20 percent enjoy it if they have a challenging text that has to be “dissected”. Debra Geiger, the Head Librarian at Coon Rapids High School, didn’t have an exact idea as to how many enjoy reading, but notes how at the book talks she presents at the beginning of every year there are always students who say they don’t read but everyone always leaves with a book in hand. Also, she was able to bring up the total amount of books checked out at that point since the beginning of the year and (by the date of October 29th) 3,030 books had been checked out, so there is a sizable  number of students who have check out books in the first month and half of school. Geiger believes however that some students may not enjoy reading as much due to a “carry over” from being younger and struggling to read. So while many others don’t even think when they’re reading, others who might’ve had difficulty may have to really concentrate, and that defeats the whole purpose of reading to relax.

They both try their hardest however to get students interested. Eidenschink takes surveys of her class in order to get to know them as readers and if she sees a student struggle, she uses that information to recommend books to them. “Whenever possible I give students choices so they can acquire a love for reading, our class does book talks from time to time, I enthusiastically read aloud to my students (this is when I really model fluency and a love of books), I help students find a book that “fits”.  Students who are unable to read are provided other opportunities such as audio books, we have book challenges (Maud Hart Lovelace), and we keep track of what we have read on a calendar.”

Geiger explained her own steps on how she orders new books for her students as well. She uses tools such as Booklist Magazines that lists recently published books and their reviews and then chooses from them based on their appropriateness for ages 14-19 years and if there is a variety in subjects. She takes into consideration that CRHS is a Biomedical specialty school but that there are also some students that don’t care for biomed, so she tries to find a balance between medical books and other subjects. She looks at Awards lists and on Goodreads for high reader ratings. Along with this, she looks on the program Destiny and is then able to see the top 10 checked out books at CRHS as well as at other schools, like  Centennial or Blaine or Andover.

Reading has more beneficial effects on the health of the human body than most people realize. It can help stave off mental illnesses in the older generation, stimulate learning and mental development in the younger generation, and increase overall intelligence of individuals in many different aspects. Yet there are many who do not realize this or who simply do not enjoy reading because it may not be interesting to them, they had troubles in the past, or technology (such as their phones) attract their attention much more effectively. As Eidenschink said, “Reading is a lifelong journey that impacts the mind in many ways.  Without it proverbial doors would be tightly shut, perspectives closed off and learning would be cut short.” Reading is so important for many reasons, and people should begin to realize this.