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Give Your Brain A Boost . . . With A Book April 25, 2014

Posted by nrhatch in Books & Movies, Health & Wellness, Meditation.

150px-Carlo_Crivelli_052Last week, Andra Watkins (The Accidental Cootchie Mama) shared links to two research studies done to evaluate the impact of reading on brain function:

Brain Function Boosted After Reading A Novel

This study revealed increased brain activity measured in the MRI’s of 21 college students during and after reading the novel Pompeii.

While this is promising news for book lovers, I wish the study had used control groups so we could compare results and determine whether reading novels has a more pronounced effect on the brain than:  watching movies, playing video games, meditating, dining out, texting, yoga, drinking wine, eating chocolate, walking, parasailing, riding a bike, talking to a close friend, having sex, etc.

Since everyone read the same novel, it’s hard to conclude, based on this study alone, that novel reading is better for the brain than other activities, such as reading poetry, attending a concert, watching a ballet, or “getting jiggy with it” by going ballroom dancing.

But reading definitely woke up a few neurons.

How Reading Lights Up Your Mind

Another article with anecdotal evidence about the value of reading (and meditation) for brain health.

Here’s what the article had to say about meditation:

“Meditation has long been studied to better understand how sustaining attention and focus affects the brain. Studies on mindfulness meditation, for example, show that parts of the brain associated with positive mood are activated with the practice of focusing attention.”

I have found this to be true.  Plus the sustained focus and attention carries over in all areas of life. Instead of re-acting to events (using stale beliefs about past experiences), we more mindfully choose how to spend our days.

Sally-BrownPerhaps by curling up with a good book.

And a cup of coffee.

Aah . . . that’s better!

Related: Fight Brain Drain & Set Your Mind On Fire (Andra) * Your Brain On Jane (NPR) * Cross Train Your Brain


1. Don - April 25, 2014

I get great enjoyment out of reading. Good to know that it’s good for my brain. 🙂

nrhatch - April 25, 2014

It’s nice when “guilty pleasures” are transformed into guilt-less good-for-us treats! When we spend time engaged in enjoyable pursuits, we ignite our passion and unleash our creativity.

Life becomes more an exciting adventure and less a chore.

2. Kate @ Did That Just Happen? - April 25, 2014

I don’t care that there wasn’t a control group – All I heard was reading is good for the brain, thus reading makes you smart, thus I have another reason to sit and read!! 🙂

nrhatch - April 25, 2014

Haha! I know reading’s got to be better for our brains than scrubbing toilets or ironing shirts.

Damn the housework . . . turn the page!

3. Pix Under the Oaks - April 25, 2014

Most excellent news! I am reading Driftless by David Rhodes right now.

nrhatch - April 25, 2014

I am reading Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. It’s a fascinating look into all the ways our brains can “go wrong.”

Val Boyko - April 25, 2014

Daniel Amen’s book is mind blowing 😉

nrhatch - April 25, 2014

I’m enjoying it. I love reading about the brain and its myriad of functions. What an amazing piece of handiwork!

4. ericjbaker - April 25, 2014

I’ve wondered the same thing about playing an instrument and retaining mental acuity. Purely annecdotal, but I’ve know plenty of old musicians who were pretty sharp. My dad, a classically trained pianist, is about to turn 84 and can still perform Chopin. His father, who as far as I know never touched a musical instrument, was quite senile by his late 70s and couldn’t dress himself. Obviously that is not a scientific study, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

nrhatch - April 25, 2014

Very interesting. So many factors and variables in play that it’s hard to say for sure . . . but I’d rather be 84 performing Chopin than unable to dress myself by my late 70’s.

Play on!

5. jannatwrites - April 25, 2014

I like to read, so it would be a bonus if it turned out to be ‘good’ for me. Now if someone could come out with a study proving a diet of french fries and m&ms was healthy 🙂

nrhatch - April 25, 2014

Bwahaha! I’ll keep my eyes open for that study, Janna. Maybe if you get Dark Chocolate m&m’s?

I am J - April 25, 2014

If anyone finds info about this diet, please let me know, too! I’d be in heaven.

nrhatch - April 26, 2014

OK . . . potatoes can increase serotonin levels which is GOOD for improving sleep, improving mood, and increasing calm!

Just don’t overdo the “fried” part.

6. colonialist - April 25, 2014

A whole new world of advertising is opened up for the novelist! I should start plastering my latest cover with things like: ‘All natural brainfood’ ‘No dangerous additives’ ‘Complete mental nourishment’ ‘Opens new neurons’ – oh, the field is endless!

nrhatch - April 25, 2014

That’s great, Col! Plastering your books with “Brain Food” buttons => Marketing Genius!

7. William D'Andrea - April 25, 2014

As a writer, I want to add that my brain functions have been boosted even more, whenever I’ve been writing novels, short stories and non-fiction articles, along with reading what others have written. It takes a lot more mental energy to write, instead of to just read. I figure that the brain is not a muscle, but it should be exercised regularly anyway.

nrhatch - April 25, 2014

Absolutely! Use it or lose it.

8. Val Boyko - April 25, 2014

There is so much research being done in neuroscience in the past 5-10 years. It seems that anything that involves concentration is good for our brain health and overall well being.
Reading, focused sports, playing an instrument, puzzles, meditating, yoga … are in there.
This is great Nancy – How cool when its a passion anyway 🙂

nrhatch - April 25, 2014

I’m on the same page as you, Val. I expect it’s not reading, per se, that lights up those neurons, but the type of sustained focus and concentration we experience whenever the world “falls away” as we paint, read, write, meditate, do yoga, etc.

When our feet are planted firmly in the NOW . . . it feels good.

9. joannevalentinesimson - April 25, 2014

Good one, Nancy! And I appreciate your call for adequate controls. Not enough of that.

nrhatch - April 25, 2014

Anecdotal evidence is interesting and worth considering . . . but I’d want to have a bit more than that to hang my hat on.

10. Tina DC Hayes - April 25, 2014

I’ve always said reading is good for you, plus children who read for enjoyment and are read to do better in school. 🙂 To this day, I still think I learn something from each novel I read.

nrhatch - April 25, 2014

Absolutely. If we love learning and reading, we can teach ourselves so many different and fascinating things.

Right now, I’m reading a novel about the clash between Catholic and Protestant during the reign of Henry VIII. I’ve learned that (1) I’m glad I didn’t live back then; and (2) I’m glad I don’t take religious claims too seriously.

11. I am J - April 25, 2014

Reading is my anchor in life. As you said in one of your comments above, Nancy, “When our feet are planted firmly in the NOW . . . it feels good.” I couldn’t agree with you more.

Whenever I take time to focus mindfully on anything, reading, eating, knitting, oil painting, I am rejuvenated and energized. Once the pump is “primed,” it seems that more and more ideas are generated and that, I believe, is the result of focus and being “firmly planted in the NOW.”

And, I might add, I believe reading your blog is good for my brain! So thank you! 🙂

nrhatch - April 26, 2014

Thank you, J! And, yes . . . we can tell which activities will work best for us because we are drawn to them.

If people don’t want to curl up with a novel, it’s not likely to do them any good because they are going to be “distracted” rather than “immersed.” From the studies I’ve seen, I suspect it’s that sustained focus and concentration that benefits the brain . . . not the words on the page.

12. Grannymar - April 26, 2014

Well now, I don’t paint (unless you mean the walls in my house), meditate, swim or do yoga. I seldom read books because the print jumps all over the place and I have to re-read a paragraph a couple of times, which takes any pleasure away from the effort. I do know that some people think what I write on my blog to be drivel, but I write as I speak and as the mood takes me.

My passions that stretch my mind, hands and skills are craft work and experimenting with recipes in my kitchen. We are all different and sure that is what adds to the spice of life.

I do read blogs and news papers – online, does that count as acceptable reading?

nrhatch - April 26, 2014

I don’t think that “reading” is the magic bullet here, GM. That’s why I wish they’d used some control groups.

We live in a society with a SHORT attention span. People are fed life in sound bites. When we get engrossed in a novel, the brain loves that sustained concentration and focus.

But we can bring mindfulness to ANY activity ~> walking, meditation, cooking, craft work, or watching the fire flicker.

Grannymar - April 26, 2014

I’ll agree with you there.

13. Behind the Story - April 26, 2014

Some activities like reading a novel or meditating or exercising carry over into others. Maybe they give our brains a kind of universal boost. But there’s no substitute for a variety of brain-boosting activities. I remember the advice of my old Spanish teacher. He said that learning a language is four separate activities: reading, writing, speaking and listening. And you have to do them all. Recently I find that I spend too much time reading and writing, and my speaking skills have gone downhill–a consequence of disuse and also of getting older.

nrhatch - April 26, 2014

That’s an excellent point, Nicki. No wonder “Learn A New Language” is proffered advice for keeping our brains well tuned.

In addition to the activity centers for reading, writing, speaking, and listening . . . it also calls our memory banks into play.

I am J - April 26, 2014

Wow, Nicki. What you say is so true. I’ve never thought about my French and Spanish studies as a “total” package for engaging the brain, but it’s true – reading, writing, speaking and listening – the Big Four – with the addition of memory, as Nancy has pointed out. Talk about win-win.

What a great “conversation” this post has turned out to be!

nrhatch - April 26, 2014

Mais oui!

14. sufilight - April 26, 2014

I love to read and I am currently reading two books at the same time. BTW, Nicki’s comments caught my attention. I find that my speaking skills are not as sharp as they used to be because these days I don’t interact with too many people offline.

nrhatch - April 26, 2014

Now I feel like I better head out to cocktail hour and practice the art of speaking.

No, wait, I’m good . . . I went grocery shopping this morning and chatted with the check-out girl. 😎

15. diannegray - April 26, 2014

Thanks Nancy – now I have a great excuse to just kick back today and read a good book (and eat chocolate) 😀

nrhatch - April 26, 2014

Excellent plan! At the grocery store today, we bought LOTS of coffee since I know now that it’s a “health food,” lowering the risk of stroke, heart attack, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. We also bought dark chocolate.

Here’s to eating, drinking, and reading good books!

16. Three Well Beings - April 29, 2014

With all the reading I do, I think I ought to be brilliant! LOL! Seriously though, it’s a wonderful thing to know that something I enjoy so deeply is actually really good for me–and my brain! I can’t think of a time I haven’t had a stack of books as my companion! I have read fewer novels now that I’m reading blogs, though. I admit to being quite torn at times! But I will always have my nose buried in something I enjoy reading. 🙂

nrhatch - April 29, 2014

Like you, I read far fewer novels these days. Novels don’t hold my attention as well as non-fiction books. The plots seems worn out, done to death, contrived, circular, tedious, or redundant. Plus I often don’t care about the characters or what happens to them because they’re made of cardboard and have no depth . . . or they’re werewolves.

17. William D'Andrea - April 29, 2014

If you don’t like novels about werewolves; how about short stories about vampires; like I often write?
I’ve posted an entire anthology of 13, which come with the following warning:
“To anyone who wants to spend his time with fun loving vampire gals. Remember. You’ve been warned.”


nrhatch - April 29, 2014

I don’t care much for vampires either . . . probably because the idea of living forever holds so little appeal.

18. bluebee - April 29, 2014

So interesting. Many of the activities that you mentioned are good for the brain but in different ways to reading. I dream of taking a reading holiday which involves a daily long walk and then reading curled up next to a fire for the rest of the day, no chores or electronic distractions in sight!

nrhatch - April 29, 2014

I hope your reading holiday is waiting for you just around the next bend, BB.

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