Stories have been a part of the history of humanity since the beginning—whether drawn on cave walls or whispered around campfires. With the creation of writing came a new medium, a method of preservation and distribution that revolutionized the way we experience stories—the book (alternatively: scrolls, clay tablets, or giant monoliths if you’re fancy and have a God complex). Of course, there was also the problem of literacy to contend with, but today we are fortunate to live in a world where 86% of the population is literate.
This is a good thing since the benefits of reading books are numerous! Physical or mental, emotional or spiritual, cracking open a paperback or powering up your ereader can add so much to just about every aspect of your life. And we’ve got the stats to prove it! Here are just some of the ways reading books can help you live a happier and fuller life.
1. Reading helps make you strong
We’re not talking about bench pressing books—though that may be just as effective as your standard weights. Just like all the other muscles in your body, your brain needs exercise too, and reading is a great way to strengthen those synapses!
Studies have shown that reading demands some pretty complex brain functioning that, when done regularly, becomes more and more sophisticated over time. Particularly in the somatosensory cortex, which is responsible for physical sensations like warmth and pressure, MRI scans revealed the brain was still forming connections and forging new paths even days after the studied reading period.
2. It improves your quality and length of life
Keeping your brain stimulated becomes more difficult as we age, especially once you are retired. According to a 2013 study run by Rush University Medical Center, reading books is one of the best and most effective ways to prevent cognitive decline—and the earlier you start, the better.
Above all media types, the good old-fashioned physical book seems to be the best thing to read. One study showed that people who read books instead of magazines or newspapers decreased their risk of mortality. Those who frequently page through physical books also score higher on comprehension tests and usually remember more of what they read.
3. Bedtime stories improve sleep
What is your nighttime routine? Wash your face? Brush your teeth? Scroll endlessly through Twitter or play Candy Crush on your phone until you finally doze off into a fitful sleep? This is the bedtime ritual for many young adults, and it is not exactly a healthy one.
Books are a great alternative to those tiny blue screens. According to the Mayo Clinic, reading a book before bed, in combination with a number of other relaxing activities like taking a bath or meditating, can help you fall asleep faster and sleep better through the night.
4. Books open your mind
When you read a book, you have a front-row seat to someone’s subconscious. The desires, motives, hopes, and fears of the characters are all there on the page, and even if you disagree with their actions, you still have the opportunity and the necessary knowledge to understand them.
Compassion and empathy are two of the biggest benefits of reading and one of the reasons it is so vital to diversify the stories and authorial perspectives that reside on your bookshelf.
Researchers have discovered that reading, particularly literary fiction, is a great way to develop an ability known as the “theory of the mind”—a set of social skills crucial for building the relationships that categorize human societies. A book allows you to walk in someone’s shoes; maybe not for a mile but at least a few hundred pages.
5. You can make friends and find a community
And speaking of social skills, books are a great conversation starter and an excellent way to find people that share common interests. Even if you aren’t reading anything exciting at the time, you can bond over past reading experiences. Case in point: How many times have you been asked what your Hogwarts house is?
Book clubs are also a great way to make friends, whether you participate in a small group or a local chapter of a worldwide club such as Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine. There are many ways to expand your social circle online as well. Platforms like Tumblr and Youtube (Booktube) are home to several fandoms and bookish communities for you to explore.
6. Books provide an escape from the everyday stresses of life
Everyone’s got their methods for relaxing at the end of a hard day. While curling up on the couch with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and watching Netflix is an acceptable (and relatable) option, you might gain more from picking up a book instead.
Researchers have proven that reading, even just for 30 minutes a day, can significantly improve your mental and physical health. Diving into a fictional person’s problems provides an escape from your own. Challenges have solutions, true love can be real, and happy endings are possible. Sometimes we just need a reminder of that.
Bonus: You’ll be super smart!
The more you read, the more you’ll know. It really is as simple as that. There are books about everything—from common spelling mistakes to how to think like an ancient Egyptian—and the possibilities to learn are endless!
Reading inspires imagination, encourages curiosity, and informs the way we see the world. It can even increase your vocabulary. And if you’re not into besting everyone at Scrabble, you can always show off your sharp acumen by providing a witty literary analysis of Taylor Swift lyrics.
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