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Reading traditional, physical books comes with a lot of benefits for your mental as well as physical health. You might have heard of some of them, but others will come as a surprise. 

Here’s how reading improves your health. 

1. Brain improvements

Reading isn’t a passive activity like watching TV or scrolling through Instagram (although there’s nothing wrong with enjoying some screen time). Reading involves your brain fetching information and visualizing what you’re reading as well as understanding what you’re reading, remembering it, and making connections as you go along. 

Researchers have shown with MRI scans that your brain uses complex circuit and signal networks when you read, and these get stronger and more complex the more you read. Scans have also shown that brain connectivity increases during and even after reading has occurred. 

2. Increased empathy

If you read stories that explore other people’s lives then you will have a better sense of empathy, which is the ability to understand how and why other people think and feel. This is because books can show characters’ inner thoughts and workings and when you read stories that feature characters or people, you are put in their shoes. 

Empathy is an essential skill for creating, maintaining, and navigating social relationships. This of course takes time and effort, but is well worth it. Social relationships are key for providing you with stability, friendship, a sense of community and belonging, love, and satisfaction. 

3. Decreased stress

Stress is just as good at decreasing stress as yoga and meditation are. Just 30 minutes of reading can decrease stress levels significantly. This is because reading is a great way to take your mind off whatever it is you’re stressing about and transport you into someone else’s life for a while.

This is known as escapism and it gives you and your brain a very well-deserved break. The best part about books is that they are usually broken down into neat little chapters so you can even read a chapter when you’re taking a break at work. 

4. Age-related cognitive decline prevention

Aging brings with it a slower brain and a decline in ability to perform cognitive tasks like remembering names or house numbers. Reading books (and even magazines) helps to keep your mind engaged and sharp as you grow older. Even The National Institute on Aging recommends it

While research hasn’t proven beyond a doubt that reading prevents age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s, it has shown that elderly people who read and solve mathematical problems every day not only maintain but can improve their cognitive function. 

5. Better sleep

Your phone screen is probably the last thing you see before you fall asleep, but it’s doing a lot more harm to you than you think. Using your phone just before you sleep has been linked to less sleep, and whatever sleep you get will be poorer quality. 

The main cause of this is that the light coming from the device lessens how much melatonin your brain produces. Melatonin is a hormone that signals your body to sleep. What’s more is that because you consistently use your phone throughout the day for tasks, your brain links it to being awake and so your brain subconsciously marks your bed as an “awake space” rather than a space for sleep. 

Books only have one purpose (unlike your phone) and they don’t emit light, making them the perfect before-bed companion. 

6. Depression alleviation

If you’re suffering from depression, you likely feel estranged and isolated. You feel that the smallest tasks take an impossible amount of effort, that everyone hates you, and that no one could possibly understand what you’re going through. 

Reading fiction can help take you out of the suffering that you’re experiencing, just like discussed previously under the section talking about decreasing stress. 

Beyond that, reading non-fiction like self-help books and even medical advice can teach you coping and healing strategies that you didn’t know before. 

7. Increased intelligence

Reading a diverse array of books means that you will learn more about different cultures, ideas, topics, histories, ideologies, and more. You will gain more general and specialized knowledge, discover new interests, have more to talk about with other people, learn new words, and understand things you never even knew existed. 

Casual reading from a young age has been shown to be linked to higher IQ levels, but it’s never too late to start. 

Read more!

Hopefully you’re convinced now that reading is good for you, but you might be wondering what should you read? The answer is anything and everything. The benefits of reading don’t discriminate, but you’ll reap them most by having a diverse reading pool. Read fiction, read non-fiction, read magazines, read whatever it is that brings you joy and adds to your life.