You may be one of the millions who likes to settle into bed with a good book every night before you turn out the light.
Maybe you like murder mysteries. Or perhaps you’ve got your nose in a historical fiction tome that brings a whole different era alive? Or is a nonfiction tell-all memoir more appealing?
Regardless of your genre of choice, a growing body of research shows that reading books can change your brain – and your body – for the better. Plus, there’s solid scientific evidence that bookworms live longer.
We know that reading is good for the brain, but why?
After studying MRI scans, researchers have concluded that the act of reading depends upon a complex network of circuits and signals in the brain.1 When reading skills improve, the networks get stronger and more sophisticated.
In one study, researchers used MRI scans to measure how reading a good book affects the health of the brain. Sure enough, as the novel’s plot thickened, more and more areas of the brain lit up. The scans also showed that brain connectivity increased throughout the reading period and for several days later.2
But that’s not the only brain benefit of reading…
Boosts Brain Power
Just as a brisk walk improves your cardiovascular system, regular reading improves memory by giving your brain a good workout.
Studies show that age-related cognitive decline is common, but reading may help slow the process, keeping our brains sharper longer. While it may not prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s, research suggests that seniors who read daily may maintain and improve their cognitive functioning.3
Reading can also help you manage stress.
Serious Stress Buster
Much has been written about how yoga and humor can help relieve high levels of stress. But can the simple act of reading provide similar perks? It turns out the answer is yes.
A study found that just 30 minutes of reading lowered blood pressure, heart rate, and psychological distress equally as well as yoga and humor.4 “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,” explains cognitive neuropsychologist David Lewis in an interview with The Telegraph.5
You May Live Longer
We reported on a comprehensive and robust reading study in a past Aging Defeated article.6
Yale researchers performed the 12-year study gleaning data from 3,635 participants over the age of 50. Simply put, book readers experienced a 20 percent reduction in mortality compared to non-book readers.
Those who read up to 3.5 hours a week were 17 percent less likely to die. This rose to 23 percent less likely for those who read 3.6 hours or more every week. This gave book readers a four-month survival advantage at the point of 80 percent survival (the time it takes 20 percent of a group to die).7
When all was said and done, the results indicated that book readers lived longer than non-book-readers by almost two years (23 months).
Although there is no definite explanation as to why reading contributes to a longer life, Yale researchers believe that regular reading keeps the brain active and stimulates an emotional connection to others which leads to increased longevity.
Reading Helps You Sleep … With One Caveat
If you’re a night-time reader like me, you’re in good, well-rested company. The Mayo Clinic recommends reading as part of a healthy, regular sleep routine.8 However, if you have trouble drifting off to sleep on a regular basis, researchers suggest reading somewhere other than your bedroom.
And, whatever you do, avoid e-readers and tablets that can actually keep you up longer and hurt your sleep. That’s because the blue light emitted by your device can keep you awake. And while we’re on the topic of reading formats, you might want to opt for a physical book anyway. Research suggests that there’s something about flipping real pages that leads to a deeper understanding and better comprehension of the plotline and subject.9
Now, I’m not going to judge folks who like to occasionally watch a good movie or even binge-watch a compelling TV series. What I try to dissuade folks from is watching mindless television all day and all evening long. Reading is a much better escape, and its benefits are many.
Another bonus is that reading a good book gives you an interesting topic to share with friends and family. Not sure where to start? Stop off at your local library and ask for suggestions. Librarians love to offer recommendations.