By instantly transporting you to different worlds where you can live the lives of millions of diverse characters, a good book has the power to change your life. As it turns out, reading can also potentially extend your life.
People who read for over three and a half hours every week are 23% more likely to live longer than those who don’t read at all (or read only magazines or other forms of media), a twelve-year study published in Innovation in Aging reveals.
People who read for up to three and a half hours a week are also 17% less likely to die sooner. Moreover, reading across all genres, whether it be fiction or nonfiction, can provide you with a number of health benefits, including increased brain power and vocabulary and a broader knowledge base, as well as being a great way to relax and de-stress.
Reading is great for the brain
Not only is reading enjoyable, but it can also boost your brain power, as discovered by a team of researchers using MRI scans. In the study, participants read the novel “Pompeii” over a nine-day period. Increasingly, new areas of the brain lit up with activity as the novel progressed.
Reading engages a sophisticated system of signals and circuits in the brain, and the more you read, the stronger and more complex these networks become. Brain connectivity also continued to increase in the days after participants stopped reading — particularly in the somatosensory cortex: the region of the brain responsible for processing sensory information throughout the body (including, pain and movement).
The National Institute on Aging also recommends regular reading to keep your mind engaged in later life. It’s thought people who read regularly (or engage in other activities like puzzles or chess) may be as much as 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease compared to people who don’t engage in mentally-stimulating activities. Research also suggests reading’s potential ability to ward off Alzheimer's may likely be down to the fact that brain inactivity increases your risk of developing the condition.
Reading broadens your knowledge base
As the great George RR Martin once said: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads only lives once”. While we only have one life, reading opens us up to the life experiences of thousands, while also broadening your knowledge base.
For example, Lysa TerKeurst non-fiction books have a Christian slant. After reading her books, “women have become more capable to share their own experiences for the glory of God after having listened to TerKeurst’s advice”. Whether you identify as a Christian or not, reading Christian non-fiction can provide you with a fresh new perspective on life and a deeper understanding of the values and beliefs of others.
Similarly, reading about people’s struggles and successes (whether in fiction or nonfiction) can also be inspirational for you as a reader. Learning about someone else's story complete with ups and downs can give you the motivation you need to forge ahead with your own life and goals and overcome challenges in the way.
When it comes to actually retaining your newfound knowledge, a physical book is better for this than an e-book. Actually feeling the paper pages in your hands provides your brain with valuable context, which in turn can result in a greater overall understanding of the material you’re reading.
Reading strengthens your ability to empathize
In fact, reading has even been proven to increase your ability to feel empathy. When people read fiction (stories that explore characters’ inner lives and emotional states), they develop a stronger ability to understand the varied perspectives and beliefs of others.
Termed the “theory of mind,” this ability makes up a key skill set that’s vital to starting, managing, and maintaining social relationships. However, reading fiction as a one off probably isn’t going to have much of an impact on your empathy. Reading fiction over the long-term is key for developing theory of mind.
Reading enhances your vocabulary
The Matthew effect isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s a term that invokes the biblical verse Matthew 13:12: “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” Just as the Matthew effect applies to the well-known concept that suggests the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, it can also work in terms of vocabulary.
For example, students who start reading regularly in early life effectively expand their vocabularies over time, research has found. A richer vocabulary can in turn positively impact your wider life — whether that be in school, college, or work.
A recent Cengage survey found nearly 70% of employers favor hiring people with strong “soft” skills, including, a good vocabulary and the ability to communicate well. Reading often is one of the best ways you can increase your exposure to new words and learn their meanings in various different contexts.
Reading is a powerful stress buster
Everyone needs an effective way to relax and de-stress, and reading can help you do just that. In one study, researchers compared the effects of reading, yoga, and laughing on the stress levels of students enrolled in high-pressure college courses.
Just half-an-hour of reading lowered heart rates, blood pressure levels, and emotional distress just as much as yoga and laughing did. Since books offer the unique opportunity to immerse yourself in a completely different world, reading can help you temporarily forget any stressful problems going on in your life while distracting and calming your mind.
Making time for reading has the power to change your life. By strengthening your brain, empathy, and vocabulary, broadening your knowledge base, and providing you with a great way to relax and de-stress, reading offers a myriad of benefits you don’t want to miss out on.
Sylvia Silverstone is a passionate writer who loves to share her knowledge and expertise on a wide range of topics, including beauty, life hacks, entertainment, health, news, and money. With a keen eye for detail and a talent for storytelling, Sylvia's engaging writing style keeps readers coming back for more.