There are countless tools available online to (allegedly) improve your memory, your concentration, and overall brain performance. Pills, special diets, or even specific classes or mental exercises – you name it, we saw it. And yet, one of the most affordable and time-tested methods to actually sharpen your brain is sitting right in front of you, right now.
Reading books benefits your brain and overall mental health in ways that no other activity can, and those earned benefits last a lifetime.
Here’s a short explanation – plus an infographic – of how reading can improve your brain power, according to science:
1. Reading enhances brain function
Reading can train the brain and enhance neural functions through a process that’s similar to the muscle memory we drill through physical exercising. In a 2013 study, 21 participants were subjected to fMRI analysis before, during, and five days after reading a book (Pompeii by R. Harris). The results showed that there was a tangible, positive, neurological change that persisted for five days after finishing the novel.
The study’s lead author, American neuroscientist Gregory Berns, explains: “Even though the participants were not actually reading the novel while they were in the scanner, they retained this heightened connectivity. We call that a ‘shadow activity’, almost like muscle memory”.
2. It reduces stress levels
Did you ever notice how all your preoccupations seem to almost fade away when you lose yourself in a good book? Well, it’s not your imagination, it’s science.
In 2009, researchers measured the effects of entertainment reading on the stress levels of students in challenging health science programs. According to this study, 30 minutes of reading were enough to significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate, reducing stress level factors by as much as 68%. Therefore, if you’re looking for a fun way to release some tension, grab a novel and let your mind forget about your problems, at least for a while.
3. It may prevent cognitive decline
Reading books is a great way of keeping your mind engaged and stimulated as you grow older, and has been shown to ward off several mental conditions.
Many studies show that seniors who read nearly every day are able to preserve their cognitive functions – like memory and concentration – much longer. And the earlier you start, the better. In a 2013 study, researchers found that people who’ve engaged in mentally stimulating activities since adolescence were less likely to develop the plaques and the lesions found in the brains of people with dementia.
4. Reading before bedtime boosts sleep
If you suffer from insomnia, you may have tried anything from taking melatonin pills to counting sheep to try to fall asleep. But according to recent studies, reading for just a couple of minutes before bed can help you sleep better. How so?
First of all, reading can be part of a sleep-inducing bedtime ritual, which signals to your body that it’s time to wind down and go to sleep. Secondly, it gets you away from your iPhone, tablet, or TV – all devices that can actually keep you awake longer and disrupt your sleep.
This rule applies to kids, too. According to research, children who sleep near a small screen get 20 fewer minutes of sleep and have a higher occurrence of perceived insufficient rest. In other words: reach for your favorite novel before switching the lights off.
5. It improves general knowledge
It goes without saying: everything you read fills your brain with new bits of info on every page, and you never know when that knowledge might come in handy.
Being aware of what’s going on around you – even if it’s outside your personal interests – will increase your ability to think, understand situations’ causes and effects, and be prepared for future trends. General awareness is also fundamental for social growth, as it will help you communicate and develop relations with all types of people. So, in nutshell, having knowledge of a broad range of subjects translates into being better-equipped at tackling any challenge you’ll ever face.
6. Reading advances your vocabulary and communication skills
In a 2011 study, a group of researchers found that students who read books regularly starting from a young age, gradually develop and master larger vocabularies. And we know how much vocabulary size can influence many aspects of your adult life, from college admissions to job opportunities.
In fact, larger vocabularies result in higher incomes, as being well-spoken and knowing that you can easily articulate your thoughts to your superiors can be an enormous boost to your self-esteem.
In conclusion, reading benefits your brain, improves everyday life, and staves of mental decline. What more motivation does one really need to pick up a good book then?
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