Any bookworm will tell you reading is good for you but quite often without any reasoning behind it apart from the fact it makes them feel good. Press them further on this and they'll actually admit being absorbed in a good book can make them feel fraught, anxious, excited, terrified and out of breath, all from a sedentary position on the sofa. You might then reconsider the whole practice as not particularly healthy as you are plowed through a range of emotions without any of the benefits of aerobic exercise but here we have some scientifically backed examples of why reading is good for your health and wellbeing, so read on bookworms as we tell you why it makes you feel so great.
1. It Makes You More Emotionally Intelligent
Most of us know what IQ is but fewer people know of EQ, which is essentially a measure of our emotional intelligence. Well, it turns out that reading can really help up the ol' EQ and make us more empathetic in life, and there is a wealth of evidence to support such claims. A 2014 study published in Brain Connectivity found that well-written fiction "puts the reader in the body of the protagonist”thus allowing to flex their imagination and live out another life, feeling the emotions of the protagonist. By doing so, this then can be transferred over into real life as regular readers of fiction then have the ability to empathize with individuals they interact with. This reaffirms the findings of a 2011 study, published in the Annual Review of Psychology, found that reading creates intense imagery within our heads that allow us to recreate sights, sounds and tastes etc.found ion the narratives we absorb. As such, readers can experience a wider array of emotions and are often better at breaking them down and understanding them when encountering them in the real world. Some studies suggest that younger generations lack a greater sense of empathy because of the decrease of reading time and increase in the use of social media, and video gaming which offers up instant gratification over a more intense emotional structure.
2. It Improves Your Relationships
Reading is fundamentally sexy, end of! There are whole websites about how reading makes you more attractive and an incredibly popular Instagram account called 'Hot Dudes Reading Books' but it's not just about looking good and being sexy, it also helps with your interactions. Following on from greater empathy, it helps you understand the larger intricacies of life and understand other people better, including partners, friends and family. Dr. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto and co-author of several studies into the area, said of fiction that it: “is a particularly useful simulation because negotiating the social world effectively is extremely tricky, requiring us to weigh up myriad interacting instances of cause and effect. Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life.”
3. It Makes You More Culturally Aware
Using the same principles in the previous two points, reading opens up the mind to previously unexplored cultural concepts as well as social positions and statuses. Think, for example about the cultures you may have read about without ever seeing and yet you still have a basic understanding of them, if not entirely comprehensive. Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children takes us through the birth of India as an independent nation and how its fortunes are inherently tied to its people. Hanif Kureishi's The Black Album follows the story of a British-Pakistani trying to understand his cultural position in a period of racial tension in the countries history and Alexie Sherman's collection of short-stories Tonto and The Lone Ranger Fistfight In Heaven gives a view into the world of life on a Native American reservation. All of these experiences can be achieved without ever having to leave your sofa and this is the joy of books. Researchers at The Reading Agency, undertook a study using the Harry Potter novels as a tool to improve views of stigmatized groups and found that students often showed change in their attitudes on diverse social issues from immigration through to gay rights with the study concluding:
‘Some of the most consistent outcomes [of the study] were the ability to learn about the self and others, learning about diverse human populations and other cultures and learning about other periods of history. Respondents who read more frequently were also reported to have an enhanced ability to understand other people’s class, ethnicity, culture and political perspectives.’
4. It Can Make You Happier
It has been shown that those that read regularly show fewer symptoms of depression as reading allows us to accept the complexities of life as well as enjoying a form of escapism from its trials and tribulations. A British survey recently found that 76% of respondents felt that reading helped them improve their lives and made them feel better whilst also finding that those who read regularly are on average more satisfied with life, happier, and more likely to feel that the things they do in life are worthwhile. By opening people up to a greater array of emotional complexities as well as newer experiences, it allows for a better emotional response should they come across said difficulties within their own existence.
5. It Makes You Braver
Most fiction sees a character overcoming obstacles and achieving goals or attaining a better outcome for themselves through hard work, trial and error. We've already established that this makes us more empathetic and open to new ideas and the prevailing wind would also suggest that, via the same means, reading also pushes us on to take up new things or persist with a project we've been putting off as we have identified with the protagonist of a story and can now see a little of them in us. Essentially, reading makes you a superhero, even if it's only a little hero in our own lives, we could all use a bit more bravery from time to time.
6. It Lowers The Risk of Dementia and Alzheimers
Reading fiction, over newspapers or magazines, has been found to aid memory and is associated with a lower risk of dementia. By participating in activities that stimulate mental abilities it has been found to slow the decline of age-related memory loss. So like, exercising a muscle for greater longevity in strength and ability, reading fires up the gray matter and works out the brain, keeping it fit and healthy.
7. It Makes You Smarter
Every time you read something, you build a mental image of what the words are telling you to. As such, this image becomes part of the fabric of our memory as we weave it into our own experiences and associate it with what we already know. This creates new neural pathways and essentially increases your brain power. It also improves your memory by allowing a new neural pathway to be opened to said subject matter so that you can retrace it to the desired piece of information. The more you read, the more likely you are to become a genius.
8. It Calms Us
Reading puts your brain into a state somewhat akin to meditation, where it is still working and learning but is also in a state of relaxation. This sort of deep relaxation brings with it health benefits associated with lower stress and anxiety levels such as better sleep, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers. A study by the University of Sussex in 2009 found that just 6 minutes of reading could reduce stress by up 68% thus making it a more calming experience than that of having a cup of tea or listening to some chilled out tunes. The study author, Dr. David Lewis, has said this is because books are "more than merely a distraction, but an active engaging of the imagination and one that causes you to enter an altered state of consciousness." Like a drug that chills you out, you spend time staring at paper that gives you vivid hallucinations but without any negative side-effects.