Submitted by Gabrielle Byrne, Public Information Officer, Thurston County Public Health & Social Services

There’s nothing better than kicking back in a hammock with a glass of lemonade on a summer day—unless it’s kicking back in a hammock with a lemonade and a good book. Summer reading has a long history as an excellent pastime, but people may not realize that it’s also good for their health!

In fact, a recent study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine indicates that reading can actually extend your lifespan by up to two years. The study suggests that the reason may be related to the fact that reading can increase connectivity between brain cells, and that in turn may lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases that can shorten lifespans. Another important way that reading can impact your health, is by reducing stress.

A recent article from the South African College of Applied Psychology shares some big health wins that come with reading:

  • Storytelling can improve feelings of connectedness, fellowship, and empathy.
  • Writing that encourages readers to think deeply about the subject matter is said to improve mental flexibility.
  • Frequent readers of fiction have been found to accept more ambiguous thoughts. Accepting ambiguity is believed to be a key to creativity.
  • The positive changes in the brain caused by reading seem to continue even once the reading has stopped, thus pointing to the long-term benefits of reading.
  • Activities that stimulate the brain – like reading – are thought to help prevent dementia.

Reading also benefits the youngest among us. The Thurston County Nurse Family Partnership program even recommends that pregnant moms read to their unborn babies, to increase bonding and support language development. So, whether you’re a parent, grandparent or family to a newborn or infant, you can help them thrive by reading out loud to them. Studies show that reading to babies teaches them about communication. If you cuddle with them while reading, that adds a positive connection between your voice, being safe and close to you — and books!

So, given that reading is so important for our health and the health of our families, we’re very lucky in Thurston County to have a robust, creative, and responsive library system. The Timberland Regional Library system’s summer reading program is for kids, teens and adults and runs from June 1st until August 31st. There are a host of local sponsors, prizes, events of all kinds for people of all ages, and lots of ways to participate. There’s no better time to get your book on, than summer in Thurston County.

It’s easy to sign up for the summer reading program online (or at any Timberland library) through trl.beanstack.org. People who want a challenge, can complete activities over the summer to earn a book, and coupons from sponsors—and they’ll be entered for a chance to win a grand prize (kids and teens) or a Visa gift card (adults). Visit the calendar (or pick one up at a local Timberland library) to plan ahead for events like pop-up library services in rural areas, participate in a book group, or to talk a walk on a Storytime Trail!

Not all kids love to read—and it can be hard work, especially while they’re learning. For parents who want to keep their little readers going all summer long, Scholastic offers some great tips:

  • Mix up your child’s reading material. Do magazines count? Of course they do. How about graphic novels, comics, and digital books? Yes, yes, and yes! Older kids may enjoy a newspaper, or some good non-fiction. When in doubt, ask what kind of story they are interested in.
  • Make reading part of your everyday schedule, at whatever time of day is best for your family. It can be quiet alone time, or the whole family can read together, out loud, or to themselves.
  • Try a series. Nothing is better than following characters you love through adventure after adventure.
  • Be part of a challenge. Create your own fun family reading challenge – a certain number of books per week, or hours logged. It can be anything you choose. In addition, the Timberland Regional Library has some great challenge opportunities as part of the summer reading program. Goodreads (see below) has a yearly challenge that you set for yourself.
  • Make it cool! Host weekly book swap get-togethers, or schedule a couple of book review potluck picnics.

The Child Mind Institute also reminds us to choose books that are the right reading level, to avoid frustration. For those kids who want to read beyond their skill level, try reading out loud, or as an audio book. They stress the importance of finding something appealing to the reader. If you can’t find something to read, try a recommendation. Local librarians are a great resource and have tons of practice finding that just-right-story. There are also great apps that will recommend books based on a kids age, reading level, interests or other “liked” books. Most will ask you to set up a free account to access their suggestions:

No matter how you and your family share stories this summer, you’re not just passing time, or building skills—you’re supporting good mental health and strong connections. Read on!

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