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Reading Novels Can Change Our Brains, Study Says

Reading Novels Can Change Our Brains, Study Says

Did you ever notice how some of the smartest people you know are readers? They seem to be well-spoken, cultured, and eloquent. Not only that, but they also seem to have good imaginations to go with it. I have noticed this, and have always wondered if there was a connection between these traits and their hobby of reading.

Writing a novel can be a long, complicated, and daunting process.  On the other side of the coin as a reader, what does reading a novel with a story of highs and lows do to your brain? Do your brain connections stay flat and consistent? Or do they change? And if they do change, how does it affect you? And how long are they there for?

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Researchers performed an fMRI on the participants

Based on a study done by Emory University, research shows that reading novels can make changes to the brain. For this research, the researchers asked 21 students to read 1/9 part of the novel, Pompeii by Robert Harris each night for 9 consecutive days. For the 9 consecutive mornings following the nights of reading the novel, the researchers performed an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) on the participants in a resting state. The researchers did the fMRIs for the full 9 consecutive days, as well as on the 5 days preceding the start of the 9 days and the 5 days after it, which made it a total of 19 days of testing.

Increases in brain connectivity were observed

Interestingly, the morning fMRIs showed increases in brain connectivity. These connections increased significantly on story days, with some of the highest arousal levels of brain activity happening during the climaxes of the story. Some of these brain connections stayed on with the reader as exhibited by the 5 days of fMRIs right after the participants finished reading the novel, and some disappeared after they have finished reading the novel. The short-term changes originated close to the left angular gylus and the long-term changes in the somatosensory cortex. The researchers interpreted the short-term changes originating from the left angular gylus of the brain to be related to perspective taking and story comprehension, which suggests that reading stories may strengthen the language processing regions of the brain.

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On the other hand, they have interpreted the long-term changes to be connected to embodied semantics, which happens when our brain provides motor representations to words. An example would be how thinking of “walking” provides you with the same brain activity as you would have when you are actually physically walking.

How it works

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    This second set of results makes sense because I remember that when I was a young girl reading young adult novels, I always felt like I was one of the characters. I felt like I was physically moving along with them throughout the story, even if I was only reading the words in a book. After reading the novel, that heightened movement in my brain probably stayed and provided me with more brain action because I felt like I was able to transfer this increased brain activity to other activities in my daily life. I felt like I became more imaginative and creative. Just how valid my experience was, I can’t tell. But it seems to agree with what the researchers found out.

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    The Conclusion

    Ultimately, the results of the research suggested that yes, reading novels changes your brain. The researchers were, however, unsure of how long these effects last. If you don’t like to read novels, maybe the results of this research can encourage you to start reading.

    Novels do transport you to another world you have never been to, broadens your imagination, provides entertainment and makes a good topic for a conversation.  And if you do already love reading, keep reading. Like they say, there is nothing better than reading a good book.

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    Sarah Bonander

    Writer, Human Resources Professional

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    Last Updated on October 29, 2018

    What Causes Brain Fog? (7 Things You Can Do to Prevent and Stop It)

    What Causes Brain Fog? (7 Things You Can Do to Prevent and Stop It)

    Brain fog is more of a symptom than a medical condition itself, but this doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Brain fog is a cognitive dysfunction, which can lead to memory problems, lack of mental clarity and an inability to focus.

    Many often excuse brain fog for a bad day, or get so used to it that they ignore it. Unfortunately, when brain fog is ignored it ends up interfering with work and school. The reason many ignore it is because they aren’t fully aware of what causes it and how to deal with it.

    It’s important to remember that if your brain doesn’t function fully — nothing else in your life will. Most people have days where they can’t seem to concentrate or forget where they put their keys.

    It’s very normal to have days where you can’t think clearly, but if you’re experiencing these things on a daily basis, then you’re probably dealing with brain fog for a specific reason.

    So what causes brain fog? It can be caused by a string of things, so we’ve made a list things that causes brain fog and how to prevent it and how to stop it.

    1. Stress

    It’s no surprise that we’ll find stress at the top of the list. Most people are aware of the dangers of stress. It can increase blood pressure, trigger depression and make us sick as it weakens our immune system.

    Another symptom is mental fatigue. When you’re stressed your brain can’t function at its best. It gets harder to think and focus, which makes you stress even more.

    Stress can be prevented by following some simple steps. If you’re feeling stressed you should avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine — even though it may feel like it helps in the moment. Two other important steps are to indulge in more physical activities and to talk to someone about it.

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    Besides that, you can consider keeping a stress diary, try relaxation techniques like mediation, getting more sleep and maybe a new approach to time management.

    2. Diet

    Most people know that the right or wrong diet can make them gain or loss weight, but not enough people think about the big impact a specific diet can have on one’s health even if it might be healthy.

    One of the most common vitamin deficiencies is vitamin B12 deficiency and especially vegans can be get hid by brain fog, because their diet often lacks the vitamin B-12. The vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to mental and neurological disorders.

    The scary thing is that almost 40 % of adults are estimated to lack B12 in their diet. B12 is found in animal products, which is why many vegans are in B12 deficiency, but this doesn’t mean that people need animal products to prevent the B12 deficiency. B12 can be taken as a supplement, which will make the problem go away.

    Another vital vitamin that can cause brain fog is vitamin D. More than 1 billion people worldwide don’t have enough vitamin D in their diet. Alongside B12 and vitamin D is omega-3, which because of its fatty acids helps the brain function and concentrate. Luckily, both vitamin D and omega-3 can be taken as supplements.

    Then there’s of course also the obvious unhealthy foods like sugar. Refined carbohydrates like sugar will send your blood sugar levels up, and then send you right back down. This will lead to brain fog, because your brain uses glucose as its main source of fuel and once you start playing around with your brain — it gets confused.

    Besides being hit by brain fog, you’ll also experience tiredness, mood swings and mental confusion. So, if you want to have clear mind, then stay away from sugar.

    Sometimes the same type of diet can be right for some and wrong for others. If you’re experiencing brain fog it’s a good idea to seek out your doctor or a nutritionist. They can take some tests and help you figure out which type of diet works best for your health, or find out if you’re lacking something specific in your diet.

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    3. Allergies

    If you have food allergies, or are simply a bit sensitive to specific foods, then eating those foods can lead to brain fog. Look out for dairy, peanuts and aspartame that are known to have a bad effect on the brain.

    Most people get their calories from corn, soy and wheat — and big surprise — these foods are some of the most common foods people are allergic to. If you’re in doubt, then you can look up food allergies[1] and find some of the most common symptoms.

    If you’re unsure about being allergic or sensitive, then you can start out by cutting out a specific food from your diet for a week or two. If the brain fog disappears, then you’re most likely allergic or sensitive to this food. The symptoms will usually go away after a week or two once you remove the trigger food from the diet.

    If you still unsure, then you should seek out the help of your doctor.

    4. Lack of sleep

    All of us know we need sleep to function, but it’s different for everybody how much sleep they need. A few people can actually function on as little as 3-4 hours of sleep every night, but these people are very, very rare.

    Most people need 8 to 9 hours of sleep. If you don’t get the sleep you need, then this will interfere with your brain and you may experience brain fog.

    Instead of skipping a few hours of sleep to get ahead of things you need to do, you’ll end up taking away productive hours from your day, because you won’t be able to concentrate and your thoughts will be cloudy.

    Many people have trouble sleeping but you can help improve your sleep by a following a few simple steps.

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    There is the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise, which is a technique that regulates your breath and helps you fall asleep faster. Another well-known technique is to avoid bright lights before you go to sleep.

    A lot of us are guilty of falling asleep with the TV on or with our phone right by us, but the blue lights from these screens suppresses the production of melatonin in our bodies, which actually makes us stay awake longer instead. If you’re having trouble going to sleep without doing something before you close your eyes, then try taking up reading instead.

    If you want to feel more energized throughout the day, start doing this.

    5. Hormonal changes

    Brain fog can be triggered by hormonal changes. Whenever your levels of progesterone and estrogen increases, you may experience short-term cognitive impairment and your memory can get bad.

    If you’re pregnant or going through menopause, then you shouldn’t worry too much if your mind suddenly starts to get a bit cloudy. Focus on keeping a good diet, getting enough of sleep and the brain fog should pass once you’re back to normal.

    6. Medication

    If you’re on some medication, then it’s very normal to start experiencing some brain fog.

    You may start to forget things that you used to be able to remember, or you get easily confused. Maybe you can’t concentrate the same way that you used to. All of these things can be very scary, but you shouldn’t worry too much about it.

    Brain fog is a very normal side effect of drugs, but by lowering your dosage or switching over to another drug; the side effect can’t often be improved and maybe even completely removed.

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    7. Medical condition

    Brain fog can often be a symptom of a medical condition. Medical conditions that include inflammation, fatigue, changes in blood glucose level are known to cause brain fog.

    Conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, anemia, depression, diabetes, migraines, hypothyroidism, Sjögren syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, Lupus and dehydration can all cause brain fog.[2]

    The bottom line

    If you haven’t been diagnosed, then never start browsing around Google for the conditions and the symptoms. Once you start looking for it; it’s very easy to (wrongfully) self-diagnose.

    Take a step back, put away the laptop and relax. If you’re worried about being sick, then always check in with your doctor and take it from there.

    Remember, the list of things that can cause brain fog is long and it can be something as simple as the wrong diet or not enough sleep.

    Featured photo credit: Asdrubal luna via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1]Food Allergy: Common Allergens
    [2]HealthLine: 6 Possible Causes of Brain Fog

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