Since you were a little kid, parents, teachers, and other adults have been telling you how important reading is — heck, half of my job as a books writer is to convince you how important it is. But why exactly does it matter so much? Aside from the fact that reading offers great entertainment, promotes deep thinking, and has the ability to take you anywhere in the world with the turn of a page, there are also scientific reasons that reading is amazing for your health.
It's easy to rattle off all of the reasons we like reading. It's fun, it's relaxing, it's emotional, etc. But what are the benefits of reading, really? Does turning the pages burn calories and build muscle? Does reading improve your eyesight? No, it isn't a magic path to weight loss or a cure for nearsightedness, but believe it or not, there are many links between certain health benefits and reading. Books have the power not only to inspire, educate, and move people, but also to make your life better and healthier.
I know that it all sounds too good to be true, but it is, and it turns out that all those years you've spent curled up on the couch with a book instead of running on the treadmill might not have been as bad for you as you thought. Don't believe me? Here are six scientific reasons reading is amazing for you. And just think, you don't even need to sign up for the gym to do it!
1. It Can Improve Your Memory
According to Ken Pugh, President and Director of Research at Yale's Haskins Labratories, reading can be great for your memory. Reading works different parts of the brain than watching a movie or listening to music does, including those dealing with vision, language, and associative learning. People who read more have more complex brains. What does that mean, exactly? Among other things, it means that the mental activity of reading helps to keep memory sharp.
In addition to helping improve your memory in general, reading can help prevent Alzheimer's, according to a study at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. The study shows a link between exercising your brain in mentally challenging ways, like reading, and a slower rate of decline in memory. In other words, the more you read and stimulate your brain, the more you can help protect your memory.
2. It Reduces Your Stress Level
You know when you curl up with a good book at the end of the day and you just feel your stress start to melt away? Well, it turns out there's actually a scientific reason behind it. According to researchers at the Mindlab International at the University of Sussex, reading for just six minutes can help reduce stress levels by up to 68 percent. The study found that participants who read after having their stress elevated became more relaxed than participants who tried other stress relievers, like walking or listening to music.
According to Dr. Lewis, the person behind the tests, "It really doesn't matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author's imagination." Don't you just feel more relaxed thinking about it?
3. It Can Be Therapeutic
According to consumer behavior researcher Cristel Russell, rereading is especially good for you. In a study about "re-consumption" — the practice of rereading a book, rewatching a movie, etc. — researchers found that people who engaged in it weren't just looking to enjoy their favorite book or film over again, but were instead trying to find new meaning in them. In other words, revisiting something familiar as a new person offers a new perspective, and when done right, plenty of therapeutic benefits and an opportunity for self-reflection as well.
4. It Improves Brain Function
Memory isn't the only part of the brain that can be enhanced by reading. According to a study at Emory University published in Brain Connectivity, reading has been found to enhance connectivity in the brain, which in turn improves brain function. The study also found that when a person is reading fiction, their ability to empathize was improved. Like the visualization of muscle memory in sports, engaging with fiction helped the reader use their imagination and put themselves in someone else's shoes.
5. It Increases Your Attention Span
With so many modern distractions, it isn't a surprise people have shorter attention spans than we used to. But according to neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield, reading can help with that, at least when it comes to children. Because of the structure of stories (a beginning, a middle, and an end), reading helps kids' brains process things in sequence and link cause to effect, which in turn helps them think more clearly and hold their attention longer.
6. It Can Help You Live Longer
While we still haven't discovered the Fountain of Youth, researchers have discovered that reading can help keep you young. According to Harvard Medical School's Family Health Guide, reading, like other mentally stimulating activities, requires mental effort that creates new connections between nerve cells. Reading can even help you build up a "reserve" that can come in handy with brain cell loss later in life.
And while it can't help reduce wrinkles, researchers in the United Kingdom have found that reading in a book club can help you live longer. For people of retirement age, a book club helps you keep your social connections and makes you engage when you would otherwise be at risk of withdrawing, providing you with a good support system when needed and an overall better quality of life.
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