In the 11th century, a Japanese woman known as Murasaki Shikibu wrote “The Tale of Genji,” a 54-chapter story of courtly seduction believed to be the world’s first novel.
Nearly 2,000 years later, people the world over are still engrossed by novels — even in an era where stories appear on handheld screens and disappear 24 hours later.
What exactly do human beings get from reading books? Is it just a matter of pleasure, or are there benefits beyond enjoyment? The scientific answer is a resounding “yes.”
Reading books benefits both your physical and mental health, and those benefits can last a lifetime. They begin in early childhood and continue through the senior years. Here’s a brief explanation of how reading books can change your brain — and your body — for the better.
Mental Health Benefits of Reading
Studies have shown that reading as little as 6 minutes per day can improve your quality of sleep, reduce stress, and sharpen mental acuity. Reading strengthens the neural circuits and pathways of our brain while lowering heart rate and blood pressure.
The ability to empathize and engage with diverse stories outside of our own lived experiences can bring us a greater sense of human connection and empathy. This often leads to stronger relationships and shared understanding.
Many people shy away from reading or fail to see it as a form of self-care. They’ll think back to the boring novels they were assigned to read in school. And they may not have much energy after spending a full day at work, caring for your homes and families, and dealing with the daily stressors of life.
I hope to help people view reading as a way to support their mental wellness. Reading allows you ton engage with fun entertainment while calming and strengthening the mind.
What Should I Read?
If you’d like to try reading more often, choose books that are of interest to you. No matter what type of book you choose, simply reading a few pages when you can is what counts.
Start with visiting your local used bookstore or library. Many librarians and bookstore employees will be happy to give you recommendations. Skim the first few pages of the book before purchasing. Does the story include characters or a setting you want to know more about? The key is finding books that capture your attention.
You’ll probably start to notice a difference in your sleep quality and mood after you get in the reading habit—whether you’re listening intently to an audiobook during your commute or devouring a few pages while doing laundry.
Even though colder weather means spending more time inside, your mind can go wherever you want with the help of a good story.
Bypass the binge-watching from time to time
There’s nothing wrong with watching an entire television series, start to finish, in a single weekend — just as there’s nothing wrong with eating a large, luscious dessert.
But binge-watching TV probably needs to be an occasional treat rather than your main source of intellectual stimulation. Research shows that prolonged TV viewing, especially for children, may change the brain in unhealthy ways.
Reading is very, very good for you. Research shows that regular reading:
- improves brain connectivity
- increases your vocabulary and comprehension
- empowers you to empathize with other people
- aids in sleep readiness
- reduces stress
- lowers blood pressure and heart rate
- fights depression symptoms
- prevents cognitive decline as you age
- contributes to a longer life
It’s especially important for children to read as much as possible because the effects of reading are cumulative. However, it’s never too late to begin taking advantage of the many physical and psychological benefits waiting for you in the pages of a good book.