Science Says Reading Is Really, Really Good for Your Brain
It's even been linked to increased lifespan.
There's nothing like the feeling of finishing a great book.
As all bookworms know, reading fulfills you and warms your spirit in ways that binge-watching a Netflix series to completion simply can't. While it's impossible to measure the impact of, say, reading To Kill a Mockingbird or The Old Man and the Sea on our souls, reading can have a tangible impact on our health.
In a piece titled "This Is Why Reading Is So Important for Your Brain" for Reader's Digest, Marc Peyser looks at how reading can help improve our noggins. In the fascinating look at the influence of books on our brain health, Peyser references 2012 research from Stanford that looked at fMRI (the "f" stands for functional and is a type of MRI that measures oxygen levels in the brain) images as study participants read Jane Austen. "MRI scans of people who are deep into a Jane Austen novel showed an increase in blood flowing to areas of the brain that control both cognitive and executive function, as opposed to the more limited effects that come from more leisurely reading," writes Peyser.
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But you don't need to read a literary masterpiece to reap the benefits of reading. It appears reading more "lowbrow" works or other genres like poetry or nonfiction may positively benefit your health. As writer Brandon Specktor explains in another Reader's Digest article, the University of Michigan’s massive longitudinal Health and Retirement Study which began in 1990, reading has been linked to longevity.
"[In] 2016, when researchers at the Yale School of Public Health dug into 12 years of HRS data about the reading habits and health of more than 3,600 men and women over the age of 50, a hopeful pattern emerged: People who read books—fiction or nonfiction, poetry or prose—for as little as 30 minutes a day over several years were living an average of two years longer than people who didn’t read anything at all," summarizes Specktor of the research. Perhaps not surprisingly, researchers also found that reading newspapers and magazines didn't correlate with the enhanced lifespan: "[B]ook readers who reported more than three hours of reading each week were 23 percent less likely to die between 2001 and 2012 than their peers who read only newspapers or magazines." So if you can carve out an hour or so for reading, try flipping open an actual book (or loading one up on your digital reading device).
Beyond enhanced brain function and longevitiy (we'll take it!), reading can help you destress after a long day, keep your memory sharp, and so much more.
Those 50 Books from the Past 50 Years Everyone Should Read at Least Once aren't going to read themselves, folks. Here we go.