Reading books benefits both your physical and mental health, and these benefits can last a lifetime.
They begin in early childhood and continue through the senior years.
What exactly do humans get from reading books? Is it just a matter of pleasure, or are there benefits beyond enjoyment? In the following article, we will talk about reading… its most prominent features, and what should you read?
Reading books benefits both your physical and mental health, and these benefits can last a lifetime. They begin in early childhood and continue through the senior years.
Here’s a brief explanation of how reading books can change your mind, and your body, for the better.
Reading strengthens your mind
A growing body of research suggests that reading literally changes your brain.
Using MRI scans, the researchers confirmed that reading involves a complex network of circuits and signals in the brain.
As your reading ability matures, these networks become stronger and more complex.
In one 2013 study, researchers used fMRI scans to measure the effect of reading a novel on the brain.
Study participants read “Pompeii” over a period of 9 days. As the tension in the story increases, more and more regions of the brain are lit up with activity.
Brain scans showed that throughout the reading period and for days afterwards, brain connectivity increased, particularly in the somatosensory cortex, the part of the brain that responds to physical sensations such as movement and pain.
Why children and parents should read together
Doctors recommend that parents read with their children beginning in infancy and continuing through the elementary school years.
Reading with your children builds warm and happy bonds with books, which increases the likelihood that children will find reading enjoyable in the future.
Reading at home boosts school performance later on.
It also increases vocabulary, increases self-esteem, builds good communication skills, and strengthens the prediction engine that is the human brain.
It increases your ability to empathize
Speaking of pain, research has shown that people who read literary fiction stories that explore the inner lives of characters show a heightened ability to understand the feelings and beliefs of others.
Researchers call this ability “theory of mind,” and it is a set of skills essential to building, navigating, and maintaining social relationships.
While a single literary fiction reading session is unlikely to elicit this feeling, research shows that long-term fiction readers tend to have a better developed theory of mind.
Builds your vocabulary
Reading researchers since the 1960s have debated what is known as Matthew’s “authoritative source”.
The Matthew Effect epitomizes the idea of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer and is a concept that applies to vocabulary as much as it does to money.
Researchers have foundTrusted Source that students who read books regularly, starting from an early age, gradually develop a large vocabulary.
And vocabulary size can affect many areas of your life, from standardized test scores to college admissions and job prospects.
A 2019 Cengage survey found that 69 percent of employers are looking to hire people with “soft” skills, such as the ability to communicate effectively.
Reading books is the best way to increase your exposure to new words that are learned in context.
Helps prevent age-related cognitive decline
The National Institute on Aging recommends reading books and magazines as a way to keep your mind engaged as you get older.
Although research has not conclusively proven that reading books prevents diseases such as Alzheimer’s, studies show that older adults who read and solve math problems every day maintain and improve their cognitive function.
And the earlier you start, the better.
A 2013 study by Rush University Medical Center found that people who engaged in mentally stimulating activities throughout their lives were less likely to develop plaques, lesions, and tangles of tau protein found in the brains of people with dementia.
In 2009, a group of researchers measured the effects of yoga, humor, and reading on students’ stress levels in demanding health sciences programs in the United States.
The study found that 30 minutes of reading lowered blood pressure, heart rate, and feelings of distress as effectively as yoga and humor.
The authors conclude, “Because time constraints are one of the most frequent causes of high stress levels reported by health sciences students, 30 minutes of one of these techniques can be easily incorporated into their schedule without diverting a significant amount of time from their studies.”
It sets you up for a good night’s rest
Doctors suggest that reading is part of a regular bedtime routine.
For best results, you may want to choose a printed book over screen reading, as the light from your device may keep you awake and lead to other unwanted health outcomes.
Doctors also recommend that you read somewhere other than your bedroom if you’re having trouble sleeping.
Helps relieve symptoms of depression
British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton once wrote, “The solace of imaginary things is no illusory solace.”
People with depression often feel isolated and alienated from everyone else. And that’s a feeling that books can sometimes diminish.
Reading fiction can allow you to temporarily escape from your world and get sucked into the imagined experiences of the characters.
Realistic self-help books can teach you strategies that may help you manage your symptoms.
It may even help you live longer
The Long-Term Health and Retirement Study followed a group of 3,635 adult participants for 12 years and found that those who read books lived almost two years longer than those who did not or who read magazines and other forms of media.
The study also concluded that people who read more than 3½ hours each week were 23% more likely to live longer than those who did not read at all.
What should you read?
So, what should you read? The short answer is: whatever you can get.
There was a time when the hinterland had to rely on librarians traversing the mountains with books stuffed into saddlebags. But this is not the case today.
Everyone has access to the huge libraries that are in mobile phones and tablets.
If you’re pressed for time, set aside a few minutes a day to blog on a niche topic. If you’re looking for an escape, fantasy or historical fiction can transport you from your surroundings to another world entirely.
If you’re on the fast track, read non-fiction advice from someone who’s already arrived.
Think of it as a guideline that you can pick up and drop when it fits your schedule.
One thing to note: Don’t just read on the device.
Turn over printed books, too.
Studies have shown time and time again that people who read print books score higher on comprehension tests and remember what they read more than people who read the same material in digital form.
This may be partly because people tend to read print more slowly than they do digital content.
Reading is very, very good for you. Research shows that regular reading:
Improves brain connectivity
Increases your vocabulary and understanding
It enables you to empathize with others
Helps get ready for bed
Lowers blood pressure and heart rate
Fights symptoms of depression
It prevents cognitive decline as you age
Contributes to a longer life
It is especially important for children to read as much as possible because the effects of reading are cumulative.
However, it is never too late to start taking advantage of the many physical and psychological benefits that await you in the pages of a good book.