13 Ways Reading Will Boost Your Health (and Basically Make You a Better Person)
Crack open a book to strengthen and protect your emotional and mental health.
The Benefits of Reading a Good Book
Always have a book on the go? Pat yourself on the back, because you’re already contributing to better emotional and mental health—from increasing memory and empathy to improving your sleep. But if reading isn’t usually on the agenda, it may be time to pick up a great book and clear your schedule to reap these 13 surprising benefits.
Reading books may just increase your life span. In a 2016 study published in Social Science & Medicine, book readers had a 20 percent lower risk of mortality over the 12 years of follow up than other readers that stuck with magazines or newspapers.
Doctors, therapists and social workers have long used fiction and self-help books as a therapeutic tool to reduce symptoms of physical or mental illness and personal distress. This tactic is known as bibliotherapy and has been used to treat everything from panic disorders and insomnia to weight gain and stress due to hospitalization.
Read if you’re feeling empty or uninspired: The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters by Emily Esfahani Smith, $34, indigo.ca
Creating a routine that you follow every night before bed can improve your chances of getting a good night’s rest. As part of that ritual, consider reading a chapter or two of a book to help you unwind before you hit the sack. Make sure it’s a real book if you can, not an eBook, because the principles of good sleep hygiene recommend that all screens be turned off an hour before bedtime.
Research suggests that children learn five to 15 percent of their words from independent reading and, as a consequence, children who read more generally have larger vocabularies. The same can undoubtedly be said for adults as well.
If you are able to immerse yourself in a fictional story and engage with the characters—meaning you are emotionally transported into the story—you could find your empathy for others growing over time. According to research published in 2013, lack of transportation into the story may relate to lower empathy, while a higher level of transportation may relate to higher empathy.
Read if you want to be transported: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, $32, indigo.ca
Stronger Conversational Skills
In a study conducted with college students, the adults that completed high volumes of reading had better verbal fluency than their peers. These verbal skills, in addition to increased knowledge and vocabulary, mean you’ll have way more interesting convos—and there’s not much better in life than a good chit-chat.
Think going for a walk or drinking a cup of tea is the best way to de-stress? Reading for six uninterrupted minutes is actually much more beneficial. A study conducted at the University of Sussex found that listening to music reduces stress levels by 61 percent, while having a cup of tea came in at 54 percent and taking a walk at 42 percent. But reading? A whopping 68 percent. So next time you have a bad day, take just six minutes to unwind with a good book.
Read if you want to feel good: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, $20, indigo.ca
The more frequently you engage in cognitive activity, such as reading a great book, across your life span, the slower you will experience cognitive decline—including memory loss—as you age. Yup, it’s true!
Stronger Written Skills
Writing more often isn’t the only way to improve your storytelling skills. In a study that assessed 46 independent variables and their relationship with writing, the strongest predictor of strong writing ability was reading aptitude. And reading aptitude can only be improved by doing some actual reading.
Read if you want to learn from the best: The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill, $33, indigo.ca
Decreased Risk of Alzheimer’s
Certain hobbies such as reading or playing mentally challenging games (think jigsaw puzzles and chess) may help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. A recent study found that elderly people who regularly perform these types of tasks were 2.5 times less likely to have the illness. Try our free games to boost your brain health.
According to research conducted by the University of Toronto, reading fiction can open the mind and force the reader to consider alternate scenarios and perspectives, which can lead to more creativity and less of a need for stability and certainty. These findings mean that devouring a novel is a good cure if you’re feeling creatively blocked at work or in life.
Read for fun: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, $22, indigo.ca
Better Ability to Read Other People
We can never know exactly what someone else is thinking, but reading literary fiction (as opposed to mainstream works) can enhance our “theory of mind,” or our ability to intuit another person’s thoughts, emotions and motivations. So next time your hubby tells you that he can’t read your mind, pass him a paperback.
Stronger Social Circle
Feel like your circle of friends seems to shrink as you get older or that you never seem to meet anyone new? Join a book club! You’ll meet new people, have meaningful conversations and might even make a couple friends to hang out with at other points during the month.
Read at your next book club: Lion by Saroo Brierley, $21, indigo.ca