General Abandonment of Reading Is a Path to Loss of Mental and Physical Health

As we celebrate the National Library Day in empty libraries, we have to acknowledge that we read books less and less these days, not without effect on our brains.

Although there seems to be no direct connection between the problem of reading books and spiritual life, I strongly feel that I should speak on this topic. Reading (or not reading) has an impact on our ability (or inability) to think, analyze and draw conclusions. Consequently, a person with no reading skills is much more susceptible to the influence of various opinions spread in the society, many of which are anti-Christian. To a large extent, we influence the formation of our own worldview, choosing our starting points and vector of development. It is however also influenced by various factors. What these factors are going to be (books, advertising, social networks, ever unstable public opinion, corrupt media or current political situation) greatly depends on us. Unlike the rest of the mentioned factors, aggressively imposing opinions on a person, books help their reader think independently.

Let’s take a look at some statistics. According to a study conducted by the Research & Branding Group at the end of 2019, 57% of Ukrainians do not read books at all. Almost a third of the remaining 43% read from several times a year to less than once a year. As you can see, the picture is rather sad. This statistics can be clearly seen not only in empty libraries, but also in public transport, where a few rare book-lovers are lost to view among thousands of men and women immersed in the screens of their smartphones.

It is no secret that the pace of modern life, with its constant crises, quarantines, price increases, etc., has consequences for our mental health. A person who is in a state of permanent stress is more susceptible to external influences. In addition, stress provokes many diseases, increasing, among other things, the risk of stroke by 50%. Reading books reduces the stress level by as much as 68%, as was convincingly shown by a research conducted by the British University of Sussex. Only 6 minutes of reading a day is enough to lower the heart rate and muscle tension, but, unfortunately, most people read much less.

I think every Christian perfectly understands the value of a clear mind in the face of various mental deviations, often resulting in loss of our ability to pray. Books play an important role here as well. Scientists at the Rush University of Chicago concluded that regular reading throughout life significantly slows down age-related decline in  cognitive functions and helps avoid even such severe pathologies as Alzheimer’s disease.

The experiment conducted by the non-profit association Society for Research in Child Development is also quite remarkable. The scientists examined the intellectual skills of 1,890 identical twins aged 7, 9, 10, 12 and 16 years. In each pair, one child was taught to read from early childhood, and the other was not. As a result, the former turned out to be much smarter than the latter. If we add to that the negative impact of gadget screens on a child’s brain, the situation can generally be assessed as catastrophic. Most people will not even notice this catastrophe from their own digital “captivity”. However, a person with such “flat” thinking (or rather, generally not accustomed, as a child, to thinking) is predictable and, as a result, easy to control. We do not raise our children in cages, because we are well aware of their need for physical activity. Similarly, the human brain needs to function in order not to become atrophied. Reading stimulates such a functioning of our brain most naturally. Ken Pugh, director of the Haskins Lab at Yale University, argues that reading develops such important and varied skills as sustained and selective attention, language, imagination and cognition. Reading also improves our social skills. This is especially true of reading fiction, often focused on interpersonal relationships. People who read regularly are better at recognizing other people’s thoughts, emotions, desires and know how to separate them from their own, hence their greater tendency towards empathy. Arguably, this makes a person who ignores books more selfish. As we understand, this has an effect on our spiritual life, since compassion and mercy are qualities (or skills) that directly influence our fate in the coming eternity.

Separately, there are also studies about alternative ways of reading, of which the most popular are ebooks and audiobooks. According to research by David Daniel, a professor of psychology at James Madison University, Virginia, reading high volumes of text off a screen is less accurate, which has a negative impact on student performance. Also, the effectiveness of screen reading is lower because it is more time-consuming. This data also applies to audiobooks. David Daniel points out that the audiobook does not allow you to pause, re-read and consider the sentence deeper, making the assimilation of information much worse.

Finally, reading has an effect on a person’s sleep. This is very important, because rest activates the archiving system of our brain, which is responsible for memorizing and structuring the information received. A study by physicians at the Mayo Clinic, one of the world’s largest medical research centers, showed that reading before bedtime can help improve sleep, promoting the transition from a state of wakefulness to a state of sleepiness. However, screen radiation has the opposite effect and reduces the production of the sleep-related hormone melatonin.

We have not yet “sunk” into questioning the benefits of reading, but without the right understanding of it, more and more people use it wrong and teach the younger generation to do the same. Now we have some facts that clearly indicate the negative consequences of our deviation from reading books. All that is lacking is to take them into account, draw the right conclusions and act accordingly.

Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds

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