When we think of healthy habits, most of us think of eating well and exercising. And those are definitely important. But have you given much thought to what you’re feeding your brain? Is it a steady diet of TV, social media and summer blockbusters?
You might want to add a few books into the mix. Research credits reading with a lot: everything from delaying memory loss to blunting chronic pain. Cracking a book could even improve your people skills and rewire your brain.
It doesn’t take much reading to reap the benefits: just half an hour of reading per week has been linked to greater life satisfaction and enhanced social connectedness. And that’s just the beginning.
What to read
While all types of reading benefit us in different ways, some studies have highlighted the extra benefits of reading fiction, like improving our creativity and our ability to process information. So don’t be shy about diving into that novel while you’re lounging on the beach this summer.
Why to read
Preserve your mind
Reading shows promise in delaying the onset of dementia. In a recent study, older people reported how often they had engaged in mentally stimulating activities, like reading, throughout their lives. They took memory and thinking tests annually. Researchers examined the brains of nearly 300 of these people after about six years. Those who had more frequently practiced mentally engaging activities had a slower rate of cognitive decline.
Build your brain networks
Certain areas of the brain show greater connectivity hours or even days after reading. The longest-lasting changes seem to affect a part of the brain that allows us to experience sensations not actually happening to us. (Think of it this way: just reading about a man running a marathon can activate neurons that would fire if you yourself were heading into the final mile.)
Ease your perception of pain
An experimental reading group for people suffering from chronic pain has used reading to help with pain management. Part of the benefit came from the social aspects of the group—the discussion and camaraderie decreased members’ feelings of isolation and depression. But the act of reading helped, too. The more challenging the texts, the more absorbed reading group members became and the less aware they were of their pain.
De-stress and help your mental health
A 2015 survey found that people who regularly read for pleasure report fewer feelings of stress than nonreaders. They find the relaxing effect greater than if they watch television, scroll through social media or read material that they don’t enjoy. In addition, nonreaders were 28 percent more likely to report feelings of depression than readers.
Get better people skills
Reading literary fiction—stories that explore the human condition—helps us “read” people in real life. Choose a novel that engages you: a 2013 study found that only when readers were transported into the story did they experience an increase in empathy.