Reading exercises our brain and improves it’s functioning.
Did you know every new memory you create forges new synapses (brain pathways) and strengthens existing ones, which assists in short-term memory recall as well as stabilizing moods. Every story creates a new memory. I bet you can remember those favorite childhood tales that touched your heart. One of my favorites growing up was James Herriots’ All Things Bright and Beautiful. Even now, decades later, it brings a smile to my face.
A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that older people who read regularly are two and a half times less likely to have Alzheimer’s. While that doesn’t mean reading alone will prevent Alzheimer’s, it does suggest there’s a correlation between intellectual pursuits, like reading, and prevention.
On average, people who read literary fiction scored better on tests than those who read popular fiction, non-fiction, or didn’t read (Mar 2010).
Reading also helps with your brains’ ability to focus, it activates the frontal lobe unlike video games that put the frontal lobe to sleep. When you read a book, all of your attention is focused on the story—the rest of the world just falls away, and you can immerse yourself in every fine detail you’re absorbing. Try reading for 15-20 minutes before work (i.e. on your morning commute, if you take public transit), and you’ll be surprised at how much more focused you are once you get to the office.
Reading Increases empathy.
Raymond Mar and Keith Oatley’s 2009 study, in conjunction with their related 2006 study, support that reading fiction helps us to understand and relate better to others. In 2006, they examined participants’ lifetime exposure to both fiction and non-fiction as well as their performance on empathy/social-acumen tests. They found that fiction exposure correlated positively with empathy, while non-fiction exposure had a negative correlation. They also found that one’s tendency to become absorbed in a story was positively correlated with empathy. Their 2009 study re-confirmed the result and showed that the link persisted even after factoring in the possibility that empathetic individuals might choose to read more fiction.
When we absorb a book we are connecting to the people, relationships and situations within the story. Sometimes these situations are similar to our circumstances and other times they provide new and different ways of interacting. Either way, this vicarious experience enhances our understanding of others.
Reading relaxes and calms our mind and body.
Research conducted by Dr. Lewis at Mindlab International at the University of Sussex found that six minutes of reading slowed the heart rate and reduced tension and stress levels by 68% in participants. His results found that “losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation.”
Our lives are filled with stress and we know that being stressed lowers our overall productivity and negatively impacts our immune systems. When your mind in actively engaged in a story, all other worries and distractions fall away. This is why so many people finding reading before bedtime so effective at helping them fall asleep easier. Calming our minds and bodies helps us to sleep better and lead healthier lives!
Reading increases vocabulary and makes us better writers!
Reading forces us to look at words we might not have seen or heard in our daily conversations. In fact, language in children’s books are likely to be more sophisticated than what our little ones hear at home or in school. It exposes us to new and different ways to use words and form sentences.
A study at the University of California, Riverside, found that when you’re exposed to a great novel, the writing of that author will inevitably rub off on your own skills. The same way that listening to music can influence your own style, so does a great book. I’ve often been told if you want to write better, read more and I’ve personally found this to be true.
Reading is fun entertainment!
Reading is one of the few forms of entertainment you can do almost anywhere, home, at lunch in a restaurant, on a bus or plane, at school, or even on a beach. It allows you to escape into new and different worlds without all the cost of travel. You can fall in love, laugh, fight heroic battles or discover new lands… all with the flick of a page. Stories have woven themselves into the fabric of our history and culture for centuries and I can’t imagine a life without the rich treasure they provide.