The more you use your brain, the more your thinking capacity expands. This is one of those deceptively simple facts. On the surface, it makes so much sense; it seems like there’s no need to even say it. But the truth is, we often seek out activities that require us to use our brains as little as possible—especially when we’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
Fortunately, there’s one activity proven to be a great way to unwind and to engage your brain at the same time: reading. Anne E. Cunningham, an expert on the cognitive benefits of reading and co-author of the paper, “What Reading Does for The Mind,” found that reading can make you smarter. By filling your brain with new information, you improve the way your brain stores knowledge, and you support the mechanisms that help you retain that knowledge well into old age.
Reading: It’s Like Exercise for Your Brain
A study published by the journal Neurology found that engaging in mentally stimulating activities, like reading, can slow mental decline. Researchers based their findings on results from 294 participants, and concluded that people who frequently exercised their minds had a 32% lower rate of mental decline than those who exerted their minds less often. Conversely, people who only infrequently engaged in mentally stimulating activities experienced a 48% higher rate of mental decline.
Study author Robert S. Wilson, of the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said that the study indicated that it’s important to exercise your brain, by reading, for instance, “across a person’s lifetime, from childhood through old age.” The higher and more consistent a person’s level of mental exercise, the better brain health they experienced as they aged. When it comes to brain health, Wilson said, “we shouldn’t underestimate the effects of everyday activities, such as reading.”
For an Added Challenge, Try Reading Like a Fact Checker
Another way to boost your thinking activity is the approach things with curiosity. As you read, ask yourself questions. If you’re reading a news article, for example, ask yourself how the perspective of the person who wrote it might influence the way the story was written. By being curious, you can train your mind to generate new ideas.
Practice this attitude of curiosity by reading things as if you’re a fact checker. Imagine you’re reading something online. Begin by paying attention the domain and URL. Subtle differences can tell you important things. For example, abcnews.com is a legitimate news source, but abcnews.com.co is not. As you read the article, keep an eye out for quotes. Most publications will use multiple quotes from professionals and experts in a story, especially if it’s about a serious or controversial topic. If a piece includes those kinds of quotes, that’s a good indicator that a writer has done their research.
Reading the news this way is a wonderful way to keep yourself informed about the world around, and to increase your cognitive prowess, all at the same time.