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Keep your mind fit with books

Written By: Andi Atkinson, UT Physicians | Updated: August 8, 2022
A women reads a book during her workout break

Give your brain the workout it needs by reading a book.

It’s well known that reading books can make you smarter, but did you know they can also make you healthier? A medical expert tells you why!

David Hunter, MD
David Hunter, MD

According to David Hunter, MD, behavioral neurologist and neuropsychiatrist with UT Physicians and assistant professor of neurology with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, studies show reading books lowers a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Studies also show reading books slows down the progression for those who already have the condition.

“Reading a book provides strong mental exercise. That’s why this habit is effective against Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders,” Hunter said. “Board games, card games, crosswords puzzles, and jigsaw puzzles are other good forms of mental exercise, but reading offers several benefits because it exercises multiple parts of the brain at once.”

Reading activates the visual cortex and then the different lobes of the brain that include language and comprehension, visualization and imagination, and memory and concentration.  

“When you’re reading a fiction book, for example, you’re picturing things in your mind, remembering names of characters, feeling emotions and empathy … all the different parts of the brain are active,” Hunter said.

Though it’s smart to include news articles, blogs, and other short reading pieces to your reading agenda, they serve more as supplements than sustenance.

“A book requires the reader to focus for a longer period of time, over a course of hours or even days. Reading a paragraph on social media is over with very quickly and doesn’t require the brain to work hard. These bits of reading should not be substituted for books or more in-depth reading,” he said.

If it’s hard for you to stay still for too long, another option is an audio book.

“If you are concentrating fully on the audio, you’ll be getting almost as many benefits as reading,” Hunter said.

For the benefit of your mind, try to reach for a book before the TV remote control.

“When you’re watching TV, there’s nothing for your brain to fill in. It’s passive entertainment that doesn’t engage the mind,” the doctor said. “Try to limit TV or passive screen time and practice regular reading to keep your mind fit now and in the future.”

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.