World Health Day lesson tip: Reading is healthy!

Mr FOOTBALL_reading

What are good readers like? Illustration from Mr Football written by Janet Olearski, illustrated by Marzia Sanfilippo. © Helbling Languages

What are good readers like? Avid? Fast? Slow? Regular? Happy? Satisfied? Critical? Relaxed? Nice? Smart? What about healthy? What happens when we read? We usually find a comfortable position, maybe out on some music and prepare our favourite drink. Sound familiar? Not a bad start to creating a healthy mind and we haven’t started reading yet!  Then we lift our novel, short story, poem, play, magazine article, picture book or comic – the choice is endless, and just spend time on our own with the pages. Me-time combined with a free journey to new lands to explore, new people to meet, new emotions to experience. And what if we do it in a foreign language? Entertainment PLUS we also improve our language and thinking skills.

Of course it matters what we read and how we read it, but generally speaking, any reading we do for pleasure engages our brain and we automatically benefit from this. Some of the benefits of reading are easy to notice. Many of my friends and students report that when they stop reading in a certain language, their vocabulary, speaking and writing skills all get rusty. And reading is also good for your health! Let’s talk about the health benefits of reading on World Health Day, observed on April 7th by the WHO.

Read like you do sports! Illustration from Mr Football, written by Janet Olearski, illustrated by Marzia Sanfilippo. © Helbling Languages

Read like you do sports! Illustration from Mr Football, written by Janet Olearski, illustrated by Marzia Sanfilippo. © Helbling Languages

1 Ask your students for the similarities between sport, healthy eating and reading.

Let’s start with a simple parallel. Your brain is part of your body, and just like your body, it needs all sorts of food and activities. If you go running without any cross training, only certain parts and functions of your body will get stronger. If you eat only one type of food, you will miss out on many other important nutrients. According to neuroscience and brain research, this is exactly the case with your brain. Videos, photos, films, and the newsfeed on your computer or mobile are not enough. Your brain was developed in a way that it can solve complex puzzles found in written texts. To put it simply, what it needs is reading to stay fit.

2 What does research say?

There is lots of information on the Internet on the benefits of reading. We have collected some of the more accessible ones, all of which have been backed up by neurological, psychological and linguistic research. But before you read them:

  1. Ask your students what they think these titles are about. They can work in groups or individually.
  2. Ask each of them to read one article and share the research findings with the rest of the class.
  3. Prepare a chart or poster together about the benefits they have found.
  4. Now ask your students to compare their own lists with the research findings.

*We recommend reading these articles with upper-intermediate and advanced-level students. When they have prepared their charts, lists or posters, you can share the results with lower-level students.

  1. Active brain ‘keeps dementia at bay’ – BBC News / Does Being a Bookworm Boost Your Brainpower in Old Age? – Rush University Medical Centre
  2. Reading Fiction Improves Brain Connectivity and Function – Psychology Today
  3. Watch This. No. Read It! – Oprah
  4. Does being a bookworm boost your brainpower in old age? – Science Daily
  5. Read Slowly to Benefit Your Brain and Cut Stress – Wall Street Journal
  6. Can Reading Make you Happier? – New Yorker
  7. Bedtime Stories for Young Brains – The New York Times
  8. Reading Literature Makes Us Smarter and Nicer – TIME
  9. Reading for Stress Relief – University of Minnesota
  10. Research evidence on reading for pleasure – UK Department for Education

How many of these benefits have you noticed on yourself after reading? Encourage people in your environment to read for pleasure. Even if we are busy and in a hurry most of the time, reading will shape our lives in a healthier way and our general well-being will improve.

A note

These research findings are based on reading strategies and techniques which rely on a subjective response and interpretation of the text which in their turn rely on a reading for pleasure programme which guarantees the reading process is enjoyable and beneficial  and that the readers have the right literacy and thinking skills and never feel frustrated about their lack of understanding.

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