Why Reading Books Makes You a Better Person, According to Science

While many of us can’t imagine not reading a book before bed, more than a quarter of American adults admit to not having read even part of a book within the past year, according to the Pew Research Center. Not only are those non-readers missing out on all the good stories with their fascinating characters and enthralling plots (and the fun of a book club), but they are also missing out on the many benefits of reading that extend beyond the page.

Science has shown time and again that reading is not only good entertainment, but it can make you smarter, give you a better memory, and even help you live longer. Here are just a few ways that reading can improve your life according to science:

Reading makes you smarter

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh and King’s College London tested 1,890 pairs of twins five times between the ages of 7 and 16 to assess their reading ability and IQ. They found that the twin with the higher reading ability also had higher verbal and nonverbal cognitive ability.

Reading can make you more open-minded and creative

Research out of the University of Toronto finds that people who read short-story fiction tend to be more open-minded than their non-fiction loving peers. They experienced far less need for “cognitive closure” making it easier to process information generally and inspiring creativity.

Reading makes you happier

Researchers at the University of Liverpool surveyed 4,164 adults and found that the self-identified readers reported being less stressed, less depressed, and with greater self-esteem and ability to cope with challenges. When compared with the non-readers in the group, they also tended to have more close friends and more sense of attachment to their community, and awareness of social issues and cultural diversity.

Reading makes you more empathetic

Fiction can help readers understand what others are thinking by reading other people’s emotions, according to research published in Science. This makes them more empathetic towards others, with greater respect for others’ beliefs and desires.

Reading makes you less stressed

A 2009 study from Sussex University showed that reading may reduce stress by as much as 68 percent. It also works more quickly than other calming activities like going for a walk or listening to music. Researchers believe this is because reading requires concentration, relaxing the mind, and easing the tensions in muscles and the heart.

Reading protects your memory

As we age, memory and brain function tend to decline. One way to fight against that depressing process is to read. A study published in Neurology, found that people who read or did other mentally stimulating activities had a slower rate of memory decline, compared with those who had not. Frequent reading and other brain exercises lowered mental decline by 32 percent.

Reading can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease

Researchers at Case Western University found that people who regularly stimulated their brains with activities like reading, chess, or puzzles were 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, than individuals who spent their time on less challenging activities.

Reading can make you live longer

Yale University researchers studied 3,635 people over the age of 50 and found that participants who carved out 30 minutes of their day to read lived an average of 23 months longer than people who were didn’t read. People who read books also tended to live longer than those who read newspapers or magazines. The researchers believe that reading books led to cognitive engagement as the brain learned new vocabulary, drew connections between plot points and the outside world, and affected empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence. As the authors note, “These findings suggest that the benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read them.

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