Reading can be a relaxing way to while away an afternoon. Or it can be a grueling intellectual exercise. Whether you’re diving into the latest beach read or exploring the intricacies of James Joyce or Fyodor Dostoevsky, reading offers many cognitive benefits. Take a look at the surprising ways that reading can improve your mind and your life.
1. More brain connections.
Your brain has more neurons than the number of stars you can see in the sky at night. When you learn anything, your brain makes connections between the neurons, and each neuron can have thousands of connections. As you develop and use these connections, they become stronger, and your brain learns how to think more effectively.
Reading creates more connections between your neurons. While reading, your brain activity increases, but brain connections also increase in the days after you read. This makes your brain more elastic and more effective. In other words, you learn while you read, but reading also helps to create a brain that is more receptive to learning in general.
2. Stress reduction.
The reason reading feels relaxing is because it is. If someone reads for 30 minutes, their blood pressure, heart rate, and stress levels go down. In fact, research indicates that reading helps to reduce stress just as much as yoga or humor.
That doesn’t mean you should read instead of exercising or laughing. It just means that reading can be a critical component of a healthy lifestyle. Pick up a funny book and laugh along the way — then, you’ll get the stress reduction benefits of both reading and humor. Or read a funny book while in a yoga pose and triple your dose of stress-reducing fun.
3. Knowledge enhancement
If you want to learn about anything, there’s probably a book out there that can help you. You can read about everything from world history to cooking or training a hawk, and a million points in between. But even if you just read fiction, you can still learn about different people or different time periods. You can also get a lot of insights into human behavior.
4. Increased empathy
You don’t have to pick up heavy tomes full of weighty subjects like science and history to get cognitive benefits from reading. Even light fiction offers a lot of benefits. In particular, when you dive into a different world, you get to know people and places that are different from the world around you. This helps to improve your emotional intelligence. As you learn more about how different people engage with the world, you will expand your empathy and compassion.
5. Expanded vocabulary
Regardless of what you read about, you will likely learn new words or new ways to use old words. This is especially true if you read about topics you don’t know much about, read high literature or read books from different time periods. Generally, because the words are used in context, you don’t necessarily even have to look them up. You’ll essentially absorb them and their meanings due to natural language processing.
Want to learn more about the benefits of reading? Then, open a book and dive in. You’ll learn more, improve your brain, and potentially even live longer.