Sure, reading is entertaining, but did you know that it is actually good for you?
Now, I know I’m about to sound like a desperate book publisher trying to unload copies of some tween vampire knock-off, but believe me: These reasons to read a book are all backed by science.
1. Reading Books Makes You a Better Person
In 2013, Emory University did a study that shows that people who read fiction are more empathetic. Researchers compared the brains of people after they read to the brains of people who didn’t read. The brains of the readers showed more activity in certain areas than those who didn’t read. Specifically, in the central sulcus of the brain, the primary sensory region, which helps the brain visualize movement. When you visualize yourself performing an action, you can actually somewhat feel yourself in the action – hence the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey, I suppose. A similar process happens when you envision yourself as a character in a book: You can take on the emotions they are feeling.
The researchers concluded that people who take on the emotions of characters in a book show a heightened sense of emotional awareness, making them more empathetic. Empathy towards those around you makes you more sensitive to the emotional state of people around you.
2. Reading Improves Social Skills
So if reading makes you more empathetic, technically it improves your social skills all around. A study that was published in the journal Science found that after reading literary fiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence. These are all skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.
The abstract from the study states: “Understanding others’ mental states is a crucial skill that enables the complex social relationships that characterize human societies. Yet little research has investigated what fosters this skill, which is known as Theory of Mind (ToM), in adults. We present five experiments showing that reading literary fiction led to better performance on tests of affective ToM.”
3. Reading is Great for Your Relationship
According to relationship expert and psychotherapist Ken Page: “Research shows that people can grow closer by revealing and sharing new thoughts, ideas and fantasies with each other, [and] reading a book and then discussing it is a fun and entertaining way for couples to grow closer.”
Even Ella Berthoud, a bibliotherapist at the School of Life in Bloomsbury, London said, “One of the joys [of reading together] is that you discover new aspects of each other, or you may rediscover a connection you had.”
You read it here, folks – reading is sexy.
4. Reading prevents Alzheimer’s
A 2001 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, questioned 193 people about their participation in 26 different hobbies like physical activities, like gardening and knitting, intellectual hobbies like reading, and passive ones such as television viewing. They found that elderly people who regularly read or play mentally challenging games are 2 ½ times less likely to have the debilitating illness, which affects 4 million Americans.
The study’s main author, Dr. Robert Freidland, claims people who don’t exercise their gray matter stand a chance of losing brain power.
5. Reading is Relaxing
Dr David Lewis from the research group Mindlab International at the University of Sussex found that after test subject’s stress levels and heart rate were increased through a range of tests and exercises; they only needed to read, silently, for six minutes to slow down the heart rate and ease tension in the muscles. In fact it got subjects to stress levels lower than before they started.
Dr Lewis said: “Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation. 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.
6. Reading Sharpens your Brain
This study in Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, author Robert S. Wilson, PhD says: “Our study suggests that exercising your brain by taking part in activities such as these across a person’s lifetime, from childhood through old age, is important for brain health in old age.
For the study, 294 people were given tests that measured memory and thinking every year for about six years before their deaths at an average age of 89. After they died, their brains were examined at autopsy for evidence of the physical signs of dementia, such as lesions, brain plaques and tangles.
The research found that people who participated in mentally stimulating activities, like reading, both early and late in life had a slower rate of decline in memory compared to those who did not participate in such activities across their lifetime. Mental activity accounted for nearly 15% of the difference in decline beyond what is explained by plaques and tangles in the brain.
Related: 13 Reasons To Read Daily