While winter weather and the beauty of snow invigorate some, others find the dark, cold days of winter to be lonely and isolating. The ongoing stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing required to keep people safe also have taken their toll on the well-being of many this winter. The Norfolk Public Library is taking the month of February to encourage the community to learn about and care for their well-being. While reading can provide entertainment and education, it also may give your physical and mental health a quick boost.
Reading strengthens the brain and improves memory. Research shows that reading involves a complex network of signals, circuits and connections in the brain. As our reading ability increases, these networks get stronger, more connected and more sophisticated. Think about all the things your brain is keeping track of when you read fiction: A cast of characters, their backgrounds, their motivations and the plot. Every new memory creates a new connection in the brain, and every time a prior memory is recalled, you strengthen that existing connection. Your brain is forging new connections and reinforcing existing connections every time you read. This helps keep your brain healthy, improves your memory and is also a key to keeping moods stabilized.
Reading also helps improve your focus and concentration. In our busy, always-on world, our attention is often divided. Multi-tasking, or switching quickly between different tasks, increases stress levels and decreases productivity. When reading, you are focusing on one task. If what you are reading is interesting, you become absorbed in what is happening and get to a deeper level of concentration. Interestingly, studies have repeatedly shown that people who read books on paper score higher on comprehension tests and remember more of what they read than people who read the same material in a digital form. So, if you really want to increase not only your concentration, but also your comprehension, a print book may be a better choice.
Reading also may help reduce stress and alleviate symptoms of depression. A 2009 study found that just 30 minutes of reading was enough to lower blood pressure, heart rate and feelings of psychological distress. With abundant reading material that is easily accessible at your local library, this is an easy, no-cost way to improve well-being.
Even though reading itself is beneficial, it also may be helpful to read about health-related topics. Libraries have many books for all ages about managing your emotions, learning about wellness or increasing your mindfulness. Check out the Mindful Me Stories and Resources on the Norfolk Public Library website for picture book video stories and recommended reading lists for all ages. These resources will be highlighted throughout the month. While we celebrate with those who love winter, and we look forward to warmer weather ahead, these are the perfect days to pick up a good book.