Nothing says vacation state of mind more than lounging in a hammock with a book you read for sheer pleasure. But did you know that reading could actually prolong your life? You read that right.
Researchers at Yale University wanted to understand the long-term health benefits of reading. In their study of more than 5,000 participants, they found that people who read books regularly had a 20% lower risk of dying over the next 12 years compared with people who weren't readers or who read magazines and journals. This difference remained regardless of race, education, state of health, wealth, marital status, and depression.1
Here’s what you’re doing for your health when you start turning the pages of a classic or the latest best-seller:
Preventing mental decline. Researchers examined the brains of 294 patients after they died. The patients who had read and written regularly in their lives experienced much slower mental decline than those who had engaged in just an average amount of those activities.1
Boosting your ability to “read” others. Reading helps you understand other people’s mental states more easily. This in turn helps build relationships and strengthen communities. Researchers call this skill “theory of mind,” and classic works of literature seem to help us build this skill best.2
Introducing calm—in 6 minutes or less! Stress in the body can be measured by heart rate and muscle tension, so researchers took these measurements in people after they read a great story. Stress impact was reduced by up to 68% in about 6 minutes. That’s even faster than other relaxation techniques like listening to music or drinking a cup of tea.3 Experts believe that the fast action may be related to your mind slipping into a literary world free from the stressors of daily life.4
Building your creative thinking skills. Psychologists had participants read either a short story or a non-fiction article. After a series of brain challenges, the fiction readers were better able to deal with uncertainty. They had an easier time staying open instead of jumping to conclusions. In other words: They were able to think creatively rather than get stuck on one specific idea.5
Increasing your brain’s resilience. Researchers have observed that reading is associated with more effective recovery from brain injuries, including strokes. Reading apparently nudges the brain into using alternative synapses—the pathways that conduct brain signals.1
Helping yourself sleep better. Reading channels your body and mind into wind-down mode. Think about a quiet spot, a relaxing position, and an absorbing story. It doesn’t take long to imagine your mind drifting away from the day’s worries. You can boost the effects by choosing to read something a little boring. It’s a surefire way to bring sleep closer.
Remember that not all reading takes you to a happier place. You’ll have the best chance of reaping the mood-boosting rewards of reading by following these tips.
This summer don’t think twice. Just indulge. In fact, we’d like to see you log off our blog right now. Take a break from scrolling and screens. Because, as it turns out, lazy days reading in the sun is actually powerful medicine for your brain.
1. “Reading books may add years to your life,” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-aging/reading-books-may-add-years-to-your-life.
2. David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind,” Science 342, no. 6156 (October 2013): 377-380, https://DOI: 10.1126/science.1239918.
3. Lambrini Kourkout et al., “Reading and Health Benefits,” Journal of Healthcare Communications 3, no. 39 (November 2018), https://DOI:10.4172/2472-1654.100149.
4. “Reading for Stress Relief,” Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing, University of Minnesota, https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/reading-stress-relief.
5. Arit John, “More Scientific Research that Reading is Good For You,” The Atlantic, July 8, 2013, https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/07/more-evidence-reading-good-you/313575/.
6. “Reading on Paper Versus Screens: What’s the Difference?” Brainfacts.org, https://www.brainfacts.org/neuroscience-in-society/tech-and-the-brain/2020/reading-on-paper-versus-screens-whats-the-difference-072820.