Read for Your Health

Feeling stressed from school? Find your cure in a good book. National Reading Day on January 23 reminds us that reading books has proven to relieve stress, boost memory, and make a happier you.

Our busy and overcomplicated lives make it difficult to take time to read outside of class work. According to Jenkins Group Publishing Firm, less than 15 percent of Americans read books on a regular basis (and no, reading your friend’s Facebook status does not count).

Instead most Americans invest their time watching around three hours of television a day, according to a 2011 time-use survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Most television is to the mind like candy is to the body. A little bit of candy is good, but a steady diet of candy would not be healthy by any means,” said Dr. Karen Prior, the chair of English and Modern Languages Department at Liberty University. “Reading requires an elevated level of active engagement of the mind beyond the passive reception of watching television. Our minds need exercise in order to be healthy just as our bodies do.”

Ancient Greeks believed heavily in bibliotherapy, using content in books to aid individuals to better mental health. They would even inscribe the entrance to their libraries with the phrase “healing place for the soul,” explained Amie Sullivan and Harold Strang in “Childhood Education.”

“Bibliotherapy is a form of therapeutic practice with a long history and has been shown to make a difference in treating depression,” said Dean Carl Merat of Liberty University’s Integrated Learning Resource Center (now Jerry Falwell Library).

Medic Magic published an article that said reading not only relieves stress but also gives the reader a better night sleep and lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease by keeping the brain active.

Great genres to relieve stress are mysteries and novels, such as New York Times Best Sellers “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett and “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins.

Besides reading to relieve stress, Prior suggests stretching yourself by reading something outside your usual preferences or tastes. “Reading widely is immeasurably beneficial to the development of the intellect and of the whole person,” suggests Prior.

Instead of watching television before you go to bed, read a few pages from a self-help book. Reading self-help books during difficult times, such as “Enduring Your Season of Suffering” by Liberty professors Dr. John Thomas and Dr. Gary Habermas, will curtail that stress and refresh you spiritually and mentally.

“In a book you can travel into the past or to foreign lands or inside someone else’s skin without leaving your easy chair,” said Dr. Brenda Ayres, English professor and assistant director of Honors at Liberty University. “Best of all, reading engages your imagination, and you don’t know how much you miss this until you use it again. It’s like loving on an old cherished playmate that you thought had abandoned you.”

As National Reading Day comes and goes, challenge yourself to go on a “candy diet” to improve your mental and physical health by reading a good book instead of watching a movie.