In the age of technology, where we can access countless information through electronic screens, stories from books still carry a special attraction. Reading is a daily hobby for many people. Science has proven that reading not only brings joy, but also comes with many other benefits.
Reading is beneficial to both your physical and mental health, and those values last a lifetime. They start in your childhood days and follow you into adulthood. Here are the positive effects of reading on your brain and body.
Boost your brain
A series of studies have shown that reading has the power to change your mindset.
Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the researchers confirmed that reading creates a complex network of circuits and neural signals in the brain. The more your reading ability grows, the more responsive and powerful that network becomes.
In a study conducted in 2013, researchers used MRI scanners to measure the impact of reading novels on the brain. In an MRI scan, the bright white spots are areas of the brain that are receiving a lot of signals. Study participants read Pompeii , or The Last Days of Pompeii , for nine days. As the story line reaches a point of tension, bright white areas also appear more in the shot.
The scans also show that during the reading period and for several days afterward, the number of neuronal connections in the brain increased, especially in the somatosensory cortex, which receives and responds to physical sensations such as movement.
Studies have shown that people who love literary fiction – stories that delve into the insides of characters – are better able to understand the feelings and beliefs of others. Scientists call this possibility “theory of mind”. It is a set of skills necessary for building, navigating, and maintaining social relationships.
Of course, empathy cannot be developed overnight. But science has proven that sustained reading of novels can help develop the theory of mind.
Studies from the 1960s discussed the “Matthew effect”. This is a term derived from the Bible Matthew, chapter 13, verse 12: “To everyone who has, more will be given, and there will be an abundance; and whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away.”
According to the Matthew effect, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We can apply this concept to other areas, for example vocabulary. Scientists have shown that students who read books regularly from an early age develop a richer vocabulary. Your vocabulary can affect many aspects of your life, from your test scores to your ability to pass interviews.
A survey conducted in 2019 showed that 69% of employers tend to choose candidates with soft skills, such as communication. To communicate effectively, you need a rich vocabulary, suitable for a variety of contexts. And reading is one of the effective ways for you to enrich your vocabulary.
Prevent age-related cognitive decline
The US National Institute on Aging (NIA) says that reading books and magazines will help our brains stay better connected as we age. Although reading can not be proven to prevent cognitive decline diseases such as Alzheimer’s, many research results have shown that regular reading and math problems will maintain and improve cognitive function in children and elderly.
Experts recommend that you start forming this habit as soon as possible. A 2013 study by Rush University Medical Center (USA) demonstrated that people who regularly stimulate brain activity are less likely to develop atherosclerosis, damage and neurological disorders due to protein accumulation.
In 2009, a team of researchers in the US measured the effects of yoga, watching comedy, and reading books on students’ stress levels. Research results show that 30 minutes of reading is as effective in reducing blood pressure, heart rate and feelings of grief as comedy and yoga.
The experts concluded, “Time pressure is one of the most common causes of stress. Students can easily spend 30 minutes on the above activities without affecting their study time.”
Make it easier to sleep
Doctors at the Mayo Clinic (USA) recommend that you regularly read books before going to bed. Reading will reduce the feeling of stress that has built up in your body throughout the day. This process makes it easier to fall asleep and sleep better.
For best results, you should read paperback books instead of e-books. The light from electronic devices will prevent you from sleeping and lead to many other unwanted health problems.
Reduce symptoms of depression
British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton once wrote: “Consolation comes from imaginary things, not imagined consolation”. People with depression often feel lonely and lost. Reading can ease that feeling.
Novels can help you temporarily escape from reality and “lost” into the fantasy world with the characters. On the other hand, self-help books will suggest you strategies for managing your symptoms. For this reason, the UK’s National Health Service has launched a Reading Well ‘prescription book’ program. In this program, a team of medical professionals will select and suggest to patients self-help titles suitable for their pathology.
Can increase lifespan
A long-term health and retirement research group followed 3,635 adults for 12 years. The results showed that people who regularly read books lived two years longer than those who read nothing or only read magazines and other forms of media.
The same study also concluded that people who read more than 3.5 hours a week were 23% more likely to live longer than those who read nothing at all.
So what should you read?
The answer is anything possible. Today, with the development of technology, we can easily access countless books in various fields.
If you don’t have a lot of time, you can spend a few minutes a day on blogs on topics you love. If you want to take a break from everyday life, historical fiction or fantasy can transport you to a completely different world. If your career is on the rise, consider reading advice from people who have already been successful. Think of them as mentors you can listen to in your spare time.
While e-books are convenient, you should still make time for paperback books. Many studies have shown that students who read paperback books remember better and score higher on reading comprehension tests than those who read the same document in digital form. Part of the reason is probably because people tend to read the print version more slowly than the digital version.
In addition, experts recommend that you do not spend too much time watching TV. There’s no harm in spending a whole weekend watching a TV series. However, it should only stop at an occasional level. Studies show that watching TV for a long time has the ability to make the brain work less. Therefore, you should replace the habit of watching movies to stimulate your brain with other hobbies, such as reading.