For people who love to read, curling up with a good book feels utterly indulgent, especially when paired with a cozy chair and a steaming cup of tea. But here’s some news that’s worth putting your book down for: Reading is actually good for you (in more ways than one)!
Benefits of Reading
It’s like exercise for your brain
We all know physical exercise is good for our bodies, so it makes sense that an activity like reading, which exercises your brain, is beneficial to neurological health. The type of reading you do (e.g. lightly skimming a page versus focusing closely on the text, aka “deep reading”) impacts the amount of neural activity your brain experiences, as well as which areas of the brain receive the benefit. That doesn’t just help your current brain health, either: Reading is also associated with a slower cognitive decline later in life.
It can help you relax
Reading might increase activity in your brain, but according to one study it can help you reduce stress by as much as 68 percent within just six minutes. What you’re reading matters, though, so if relaxation is your goal, choose something you enjoy that doesn’t leave you feeling upset or angry, especially if you use your reading time to get ready for a good night’s sleep.
If you’d like to implement a bedtime reading habit in the hopes of improved shut-eye, know that reading on a screen, particularly with blue light, can have just the opposite effect. And as any good bookworm knows, settling in with a real page-turner may keep you up past your bedtime rather than knock you out.
It boosts creativity
Reading broadens our worldview. It gives us a peek into experiences we’d never have in our own lives and exposes us to ideas and cultures we might never have witnessed otherwise. And when our horizons are extended in this way, we naturally become more creative because the limits we previously imposed tend to dissipate. Reading not only gives us permission to use our imagination, it gives our imagination a boost in whatever direction we care to take it.
It increases self-confidence
In that same vein, reading can help you feel more self-assured. If you feel self-conscious about something, you can always find a character (or even a whole world!) in which that very trait is completely normal, if not desirable. If you feel uncomfortable about your lack of education on a certain topic, read up on it—you’ll be ready to join in a discussion in no time.
It can make you more empathetic
A well-written book, particularly within the realm of literary fiction, takes you into another world, into someone else’s life—which might look nothing at all like yours. And that’s a wonderful thing, because when you have a chance to walk in someone else’s shoes, it improves your emotional intelligence, allowing you to better understand other people’s feelings. This holds truer for books that are heavily reliant on the interior development of characters. That makes sense: The more you get inside someone else’s head (whether they’re real or fictional) the more likely you are to truly understand them.
It makes downtime more enjoyable
No studies need to be conducted to prove this to be true! If you have a good book at the ready, downtime doesn’t feel like a waste so much as an opportunity to read a few more pages—and when you shift your mindset in this way, that can improve your entire outlook.
Factors to Consider
Reading is reading, right? To an extent, yes. Reading of any kind requires you to make connections, but a book with chapters—as opposed to, say, a newspaper article—generally requires more memory and increased critical thinking. This kind of work creates new neural pathways between regions of your brain, and that can lead to quicker thinking. So, reading something short and simple won’t necessarily be as beneficial as something that requires a deeper, longer read.
And, as mentioned, the type of reading you do, the kind of book you read, and whether you hold a physical book or an e-reader in your hands can all affect your brain in different ways. This holds true for audiobooks as well: While research shows audio books stimulate the brain similarly to paper books, listening doesn’t require quite the same effort because there’s a voice providing the rhythm, sound, accents, emphasis, and more. When you read, on the other hand, it’s up to you to piece all of that together. An audiobook is a great option for times when you can’t have your eyes on a page. You might even find that having a compelling audiobook cued up is a great incentive to go for a walk or hit the gym! But to get the complete brain benefit of being a bookworm, make sure to keep real books (or at least digital versions) on hand.
It’s always nice to learn there are proven benefits to a beloved hobby, and given all reading does for us, it seems like this is a hobby very much worth cultivating.