Many a wall hanging has been embroidered with the words, “Sing like no one’s listening, love like you’ve never been hurt, and dance like nobody’s watching.” Well, there is another expressive, creative activity that anyone can do, and it also will boost your spirits: writing.
Writing—particularly by hand with pen on paper—can transform your health in multiple ways, in addition to enhancing your memory, comprehension, and communication skills.
What Are the Advantages of Writing?
The best part of writing is that anyone can do it. Although you may prefer writing a memoir to preserve valuable memories or working on another ambitious project, it doesn’t matter what you write, only that you’re doing it consistently. Merely keeping a journal, writing letters to your loved ones, or developing a fun a story can enable you to reap the benefits of incorporating writing into your regular routine. Writing consistently is also a great resolution! Here is a look as some of the various benefits of writing:
1. Improved Memory Retention
Although keeping a memory notebook or daily journal cannot cure dementia and memory loss in seniors, it exercises your mind and can prevent mild cognitive impairment. The act of writing—especially by hand—causes signals to be sent from your hands to your brain to build motor memory, and that physical response helps imprint the information for better retention. Additionally, as your brain searches for the right words and phrases to accurately express your thoughts, it encourages cognitive recall and focus that simultaneously augments your verbal communication skills. Memory notebooks, in particular, are helpful for improving your recall and retention. Keeping a notebook or journal filled with reminders or information you don’t want to forget can help you remember to remember, one of the more challenging elements of memory loss.
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2. Easing Emotional and Physical Pain
Expressing emotions through words may strengthen your ability to process and heal from traumatic or painful experiences. Writing in a private journal allows you to honestly express your innermost thoughts, concerns, fears, and joys without judgment or reproach. Through this process, you gain self-awareness and the ability to confront those emotions in a positive way. Additionally, writing in this manner may even produce a calming effect that supports physical healing. For example, a group of researchers from New Zealand conducted a study where they asked a group of senior citizens, ages 64 to 97, to keep a journal for two weeks. Half the group was asked to write about the most traumatic event in their lives and to be as open and candid as possible. Meanwhile, the other participants were instructed to write about their daily plans, but not their feelings, opinions, or thoughts. When all the participants had small skin biopsies taken after two weeks, the group that was writing expressively in their journals experienced faster healing times for their wounds than those asked to avoid feelings.
3. Decreased Stress and Increased Happiness
Keeping a gratitude journal and writing in it regularly can also make you happier over time. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the University of Miami studied people who kept a gratitude journal and discovered that after two months of weekly entries, participants who kept journals were more optimistic than those who did not keep journals. Turns out they exercised more, too. Using a journal to vent or write down feelings of anger, grief, sadness, or pain also enables you to put them out of your mind and be more present in the moment. This alone can decrease your stress and help you feel calm and at peace.
4. Superior Quality of Sleep
Writing your thoughts and keeping a gratitude journal are also linked to getting a better night’s sleep (so is walking every day), which is critical to both mental and physical health. Sleep deprivation lowers your body’s levels of growth hormones, which are important for repairing physical damage in your body. It’s especially helpful if your writing is geared toward gratitude, as research has found spending just 15 minutes a night writing down what you’re thankful for significantly improves the quality and duration of your sleep. However, simply writing down anything that's consuming your thoughts and making you restless puts your mind at ease and enables you to relax.
5. Better Overall Health and Wellbeing
Writing cultivates long-term benefits for both your mind and your body. Expressive writing has been linked to emotional benefits—including improved mood and wellbeing and decreased stress levels and depressive symptoms—as well as physical benefits, such as lower blood pressure, improved lung and liver functioning, and decreased time spent in the hospital. The act of writing also fosters self-discipline, which can translate into other areas of life, and boosts self-confidence.
Outlets for Writing at Your Retirement Community
Among the various programs and events offered by Village Green Retirement Campus, we host a workshop where residents gather to write together and share what they’ve written. If you're interested in working on your writing and garnering encouragement and inspiration from your peers, you can join the writing group.
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“6 Unexpected Ways Writing Can Transform Your Health.” Huffington Post article, Updated Dec. 6, 2017. Accessed online at https://www.huffpost.com/entry/writing-health-benefits-journal_n_4242456
“How Writing Heals Wounds — Of Both the Mind and Body.” Time magazine. Accessed online at https://healthland.time.com/2013/07/13/how-writing-heals-wounds-of-both-the-mind-and-body/
“A Serving of Gratitude May Save the Day.” New York Times. Accessed online at https://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/22/science/a-serving-of-gratitude-brings-healthy-dividends.html?_r=1&
“How Gratitude Helps You Sleep at Night.” Psychology Today. Accessed online at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/minding-the-body/201111/how-gratitude-helps-you-sleep-night
“Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing.” Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, Vol. 11, Issue 5. Accessed online at https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/advances-in-psychiatric-treatment/article/emotional-and-physical-health-benefits-of-expressive-writing/ED2976A61F5DE56B46F07A1CE9EA9F9F/core-reader