Nearly half of all students never pick up and read a book once they have graduated. This is a huge number but it would almost guarantee to do down if everyone knew all the benefits of reading. Just feasting your eyes on a few sheets of printed paper can provide so benefits to health and well being.
Just reading for just a few minutes a day can reduce stress levels, improve vocabulary and writing, and even help to prevent degenerative diseases like dementia.
Here are five reading benefits for your health and well being that are backed by science.
1. More Empathy
Mirror neurons were discovered in the 1990s. They activate when we perform an action or see someone else perform an action. The discovery of mirror neurons helped researchers better understand empathy.
A study showed that reading fiction increases the ability to feel empathy. Some participants in the study were given fiction to read while others were provided with some nonfiction. Once they were all done reading, they were all asked to take part in an empathy test. The results showed that those that read the fiction material showed more empathy than those who were reading the nonfiction material.
Keith Oatley of the University of Toronto said, “The most important characteristic of being human is that our lives are social. Fiction can augment and help us understand our social experience.” He went on to explain that “a piece of fiction … a piece of consciousness being passed from mind to mind. When you’re reading, you’re taking in a piece of consciousness that you make your own.”
In fact, famous author Neil Gaiman has been using the ability to feel more empathy to encourage people to start reading for years. He wrote the following column in The Guardian:
“When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.”
You should check out this great resource and read some of Gaiman’s books to understand why he’s so passionate about this subject. Here’s a complete list.
2. Flexible Minds
Reading materials that inspire the reader to question what they are actually reading has an interesting impact on the brain. A study asked people to rate a series of texts based on their “poeticness” and how much they were required to think the meaning behind the text as they read.
The results showed that when the participants were tasked with reading more complex poetry, their brains showed increased activity in certain key areas. The scans also showed heightened literary awareness.
Professor Philip Davis, one of the authors of this study from the University of Liverpool, said, “The research found that the sustained experience of reading poems might … increase mental flexibility through the process of the reappraisal of meaning and the acceptance of new meaning.”
This means that people that read are better able to adapt their thinking and behavior as their current situation evolves. In other words, readers have more flexible minds, meaning they are better able to find alternative solutions rather than just following the standard approach led by others.
3. Improved Creativity
Reading has been associated with creativity almost forever. This was emphasised after a study showed that readers don’t need as much closure compared to those that don’t read.
Participants of this study were asked to read a short story or an essay. Once they were done, they were assessed for closure. The results showed that those who read the short story showed a much lower need for closure compared to those reading the essay.
Professor Maja Djikic, one of the study’s authors at the University of Toronto, said, “These findings suggest that reading fictional literature could lead to better procedures for processing information generally, including those of creativity.” She also explains how the ambiguity of fictitious material allows readers to accept ambiguity, a key factor in creativity.
4. Enhanced Brain Functionality
Research shows stories have multiple impacts on the brain. A study asked participants to read a novel and had their brains scanned before, during and a few days after they finished. The results showed their brains’ resting state changed once they were done with the novel.
Professor Gregory Berns, the lead researcher on the study, said, “Even though the participants were not actually reading the novel while they were in the scanner, they retained this heightened connectivity. We call that a ‘shadow activity’, almost like muscle memory. The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist. We already know that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”
5. Prevent Dementia
The final benefit of reading is that it stimulates the brain so much that it can prevent degenerative conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s. A study showed that people who read are 32% less likely to experience brain degeneration.
It’s also been shown that reading can improve our mental state in a similar fashion to meditation and provide the benefits of deep relaxation. For example, readers have better regular sleep, are not as stressed out, feel better about themselves and do not suffer from depression as often as non-readers.
Since reading has all these awesome benefits to health and overall well being, what more motivation do you need to need to pick up a book and get started right now?