I just don’t have time to read.
Ever heard that phrase? Or worse — said it? Probably.
With all of the other to-dos on your already-overflowing list, reading probably seems like a luxury you just don’t have time for. Sound about right? Well, you might want to reconsider your priorities, for your health’s sake. Besides being an opportunity to mentally escape from the comfort of your own couch, reading is good for you — in ways you might not even think.
Here are five health-related reasons you should go ahead and crack open that novel.
- Reading Can Improve Sleep
- Reading Can Reduce Stress
- Reading Can Slow — or Prevent — Memory Decline
- Reading Can Ease Depression
- Reading Can Make You Smarter, More Focused
The benefits of good sleep on our health are extensive. Yet, a great portion of Americans don’t get the quantity — or quality — of sleep they need. Why? Blame modern technology and our “busyness” culture. Rather than keeping your smartphone at arms length at bedtime, store a book at your bedside. Regular reading can actually help you get better zzzs. Sleep experts recommend reading as a way to establish a nighttime routine for your body and cue it for quality sleep. Stop the scrolling and dim bright lights a designated amount of time before bed, and pick up that paperback — it only takes a few minutes of reading each night to reap the benefits of improved shut-eye.
The stress level in our culture is growing, bringing with it a costly deterioration of our health and well-being. Reading is proven to ease stress — and by as much as 68 percent. Really! Even more than calming nighttime tea or a relaxing walk, reading mimics the effect of mediation, luring our brains into pleasurable trance-like states that promote inner calm and deep relaxation. Can you say ooooooohm? We know, all too well, the long list of life’s pervasive demands: bills, work, housework (and that’s only to name a few). Instead of crashing on the couch and zoning out in front of Netflix at the end of the day, step away from stressors and the strains of daily life by spending time with a page-turner you can get lost in. It’ll help you unwind.
Aside from improving your current health, reading is an excellent source of health prevention. Reading keeps your brain in shape by engaging it in stimulating mental activity, which a study showed promoted slower memory decline. Additional studies have shown that engaging in mental stimulation can help slow — and even prevent — Alzheimer’s and dementia. Consider turning those pages like a brain power boost: it keeps your brain active and exercised at all ages, improving its memory and health, now and later.
Do your future self a favor and start turning those pages.
Bibliotherapy: it’s a real thing (and a real field). Early libraries (think: 1200 BCE) even had the mottoof being “the house of healing for the soul.” Yep, reading is that powerful. We’ve discussed how reading helps lower stress, and on the same note, it serves as a kind of natural remedy for those with mental illness and those exhibiting symptoms of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Bibliotherapy techniques, in particular, have been linked to lower levels of depression, used as “low-intensity interventions.” And this could help a large number of people — 1 in 5 adults, and 1 in 5 youth experience mental illnesses or disorders during their lifetime.
Plus, reading can help strengthen emotional intelligence and connectivity, like making you more empatheticand tolerant of others. So go ahead and get swept away in your favorite novel — it’s good for you!
It’s a natural result of our digital culture: we can’t focus. Currently, our attention spans have slipped to an all-time low: a measly 8 seconds. (That’s less than a goldfish!) Luckily, reading benefits us here, too; it helps build our attention spans, develop greater concentration, make connections, and understand narratives in a wider context. Reading goes against our naturally-fed inclinations for multitasking by making us focus our attention on a single aim: the story.
Plus, reading can actually make you smarter, boosting brain power through cognitive stimulation. (Consider it a killer workout for your brain!) Reading is more neurologically challenging than speaking or processing images, and it helps you increase knowledge, improve mental flexibility, expand your vocabulary, and develop stronger analytical thinking skills. And what’s more? Research shows that reading creates new white matter in the brains of children, which improves communication within the brain.
Ready to get reading? If we haven’t convinced you, consider this last whopper: reading is linked to longer life. So go ahead, read another chapter.
Turn Those Pages
A final note on tangible tomes: as A+ as e-readers and tablets are for reading on the go, your health is better off with a ink-and-paper book. Why? Well, ditching screens for paper boasts unique advantages to our health, especially in our overly-digital landscape. The tactile experience of reading a physical book helps us navigate narrative connections, improves absorption of material and learning, enhances our sense of control, increases immersiveness, makes us more intentional, and strengthens sensory experience. Plus, electronic screens can hinder sleep patterns, which we know (see #1) harms health.
Take time to turn tangible pages and get lost. (Plus, don’t we all just love the smell of books?)
So, whether you’re into fantasy or romance or nonfiction, it’s time to adopt this healthy habit and get reading. Dust off your library card, join a bookclub, or peruse the stacks at your local bookstore and live by a new adage: A few pages a day keeps the doctor away.