Skip to main content
Hamburger Menu Close



Why reading is like exercise for your body and how you can 'train' your mind

It's a way to stimulate your mind in this age of messages, tweets and quick reads.

Why reading is like exercise for your body and how you can 'train' your mind

(Art: The New York Times/Egle Zvirblyte)

To read more deeply, to do the kind of reading that stimulates your imagination, the single most important thing to do is take your time.

You can’t read deeply if you’re skimming. As the writer Zadie Smith has said, “When you practise reading, and you work at a text, it can only give you what you put into it”.

READ: How to properly get tested for new glasses so you're not wasting money

At a time when most of us read in superficial, bite-size chunks that prize quickness –messages, tweets, emails – it can be difficult to retrain your brain to read at an unhurried pace, but it is essential.

In Slow Reading In A Hurried Age, David Mikics writes that “slow reading changes your mind the way exercise changes your body: A whole new world will open up, you will feel and act differently because books will be more open and alive to you”.

To read deeply, make sure you set aside at least 15 minutes to read your book and try this exercise.

  • Notice if you start to skim or skip sections

If you do, backtrack. It can help to use your finger on the page to underline text as you go.

  • Keep a dictionary nearby

If you’re uncertain about the definition of any words, stop and look them up.

READ: Living with 'lao hua': How to deal with presbyopia

  • Actively re-read

If something is confusing you, reread it. If it’s an especially knotty passage, try to read it aloud or express it in your own words.

And if all else fails, mark the troublesome text in some way, whether you highlight it or affix a sticky note. It’s likely that you’ll find clarification later in the book, and this way you will be able to come back to it.

  • Use a highlighter (or sticky notes)

Mark the passages of your book that resonate with you. Perhaps the ideas fascinate you, or perhaps you’re struck by the author’s language. When you finish the book, return to those pages to see if you still feel the same way.

  • Summarise

At the end of your reading session, sum up, in your own words, what you’ve just read. (There’s a reason your teacher asked you questions after every chapter in high school!)

  • Reading makes you more empathetic

By immersing you in other cultures and helping you connect more deeply with the world around you, books give you “the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings,” as The Times explained in 2012. 

A cognitive scientist, Dr Keith Oatley, told the paper, “Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life”.

By Tina Jordan © The New York Times

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Source: New York Times