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Words and your Brain

I was reading my September edition of Reader's Digest and came across a wonderful article aptly named "Word Power" which discusses the benefits of the written word and our brain health as we age.  I wanted to share some of its highlights.

I always read to my son Sean when he was a baby and encouraged him to read good night stories to my dad over the phone when he began reading in kindergarten.  After reading this article, I'm glad I did.  According to recent findings children as young as six months old who read books with their parents several times a week show stronger literacy skills four years later; score higher on intelligent tests, and land better jobs than non-readers.  Better news is that research also shows that as we age, reading and language acquisition skills are just as important in fending off dementia.

Researchers at the Yale School of Public Health found that people reading books over say, magazines and newspapers, actually fared better in the long run and here's why. They argue that reading chapter books encourages "deep reading," unlike skimming headlines which offers only a glimpse and does not require the reader to discern the material as thoroughly. When you think critically, new pathways between all four lobes and both hemispheres of your brain are created. They state that over time, these neural networks can promote quicker thinking and may provide a greater defense against the worst effects of cognitive decay.

The Yale researchers also reveal that books, especially fiction has been shown to increase empathy and emotional intelligence.  This may not seem like much, but when you consider the electronic communication era we are living in today, it can add up to something powerful.  Developing these tools can lead to more positive social interactions which in turn can decrease stress levels, both of which are proven to help us live longer.

According to the article, scientists also recognize a larger vocabulary may lead to a more resilient mind by helping our brain cells find new mental pathways around areas damaged by stroke, dementia and other forms of decay.

These "cognitive reserves" are important as we age and can be increased by intensifying our vocabulary as well as, you got it, learning a foreign language, or at minimum new foreign words.  Research shows that polyglots vs. monoglots are stronger at multi-tasking, better at memorizing and have a stronger ability to focus on important information.

So what do you say, let's get to work increasing our vocabulary and learning a new language, so we can improve our chances of living with a robust brain later in life.  Let's start with the word pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.