Lots of us enjoy a good book occasionally. Curling up on the couch with a cup of tea and a new read…there’s nothing better right? Well, some studies suggest that reading could be more than just a bit of fun. It could be a fantastic workout for your brain. It seems that reading books can benefit both your mental and physical health which is fantastic news.
Why reading could be good for you
The first novel is thought to have been written by a Japanese woman called Murasaki Shikibu in the 11th Century. The novel itself was called The Tale of Genji and was a 54 chapter long story of courtly seduction. Since then, not much has changed and many of us are still enthralled by novels. It seems that you could do a lot worse than being obsessed with reading. The benefits associated with it are wide-ranging and indeed, long-lasting.
It seems that reading “literally changes your mind”. With the use of MRI scans, researchers have been able to confirm that reading as an activity involves “a complex network of circuits and signals in the brain”. These networks that are developed through reading also grow stronger and more sophisticated with time. A study conducted in 2013 used functional MRI scans to ascertain the effect of reading a novel on the brain.
This study utilized the novel Pompeii which participants read over the course of 9 days. Results showed that, as the story built to climax and became tenser, more parts of the brain lit up. Brain scans of the participants showed that during and even in the days following the experiment, brain connectivity increased substantially.
Other studies have shown that the occipital lobe (the visual processing center of the brain) was more developed in readers than in non-readers. Essentially, this means that readers can process information faster and more efficiently. A more highly developed occipital lobe has also been linked to “enhanced imagination and creativity skills” and even better decision-making skills.
Reading and stress
One of perhaps the biggest benefits associated with it is the stress relief factor. Stress is believed to be one of the biggest causes of illness. It is said to contribute to about 60% of all human illnesses and diseases. Stress can increase the risk of stroke and heart disease by 50% and 40% respectively. A 2009 study conducted by the University of Sussex found that reading can reduce stress levels by as much as 68%. This study found that
just six minutes of reading slowed the heart rate and reduced muscle tension substantially.
Reading and the mind
Aging brings with it a steady mental decline. Tasks that were once simple can become more difficult. This could include the inability to recall things like street names. It seems however that if you’re looking to slow or even stop cognitive decline, reading could be the answer. In fact, some studies have shown that reading regularly may even help to prevent severe diseases like Alzheimer’s. A 2013 study found that it may slow brain function decline and help with the prevention of diseases like dementia. Participants who engaged in reading and other mentally stimulating activities “in early and late-life were less likely to show physical evidence of dementia, such as brain lesions, plaques, and tangles”.
Reading and sleep
With most of us attached at the hip (or rather finger) to our smartphones, it’s no surprise that we tend to use them even just before we turn the lights off. However, multiple studies have shown that using your phone just before bed can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule and may make it even more difficult to fall asleep. Instead of scrolling mindlessly through Instagram on your phone before bed, try a book. Research by the Mayo Clinic suggests that creating some kind of routine around bedtime that involves reading a book can “promote better sleep by easing the transition between wakefulness and drowsiness”.
Reading and Intelligence
It’s hardly a secret that it can help you to learn new things. But studies have shown that reading can also help to expand vocabulary which is linked with higher intelligence. This link between reading and intelligence is even more important in children. Research seems to show that the stronger the early reading development is in children, the more intelligent they are likely to become. A 2014 study showed that children that were stronger readers by the age of 7 had much higher IQ than those of children that were weaker readers.
It is clear that it offers huge benefits, and it doesn’t seem to matter too much what the specific reading material is. Reading literally changes your brain and increases signals in the brain. Ultimately, in children, it has been shown to increase potential intelligence and in adults, it may be useful in slowing mental decline. It seems there could possibly be no better activity than reading when it comes to brain health.