When was the last time you read something other than an article, a magazine, or social media posts? If you’re like the average American, you may read less than 16 minutes per day, and instead spend time watching TV or on the computer.1 However, increasing your daily reading time and finishing a complete book has some unexpected benefits. To round out your year of healthy living, curl up with a good book and enjoy these added health benefits!
Increase Your Tolerance For Ambiguity
Ambiguity can be frustrating and stressful. When a situation isn’t clear, it becomes hard to make a decision, predict an outcome, or take action. It’s natural for us to want to clear up any doubt, (known as finding “cognitive closure”) so we can act on an issue. However, a strong desire for cognitive closure can lead you to make snap judgments based on inconclusive evidence, be more likely to exhibit closed-minded behaviors, and resist alternative views. 2 Evidence has shown that reading can combat this need for cognitive closure, which may make you more comfortable with ambiguity and better able to process information without making quick judgments. 3 Developing this comfort can help you think more creatively without getting tied down to one specific idea.
Reduce Your Risk For Dementia
Reading stimulates your brain, which may help you age with grace by preventing clinical signs of dementia.1 A 2011 study found that older adults who engaged in stimulating hobbies (including reading) for about an hour each day lowered their risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and overall dementia.2 Even for those who show signs of plaques, tangles, and other signs of dementia-related damage to their brains, mentally-stimulating activities seem to protect memory and thinking skills, as well as help build brain cells and neural connections. 6, 7
Learn To Read People’s Emotions
To read fiction, you’ll need to understand the character's thoughts, feelings, and emotions. This ability to empathize with characters may help you practice this skill in real life, as well as make it easier to understand others. One study shows that the more engaged readers are in fiction, the higher levels of empathy they exhibit. 8 Another study showed that readers of fiction display the highest levels of social cognitive performance (or ability to think about and understand other people). 9
Lower Your Stress Levels
Reading is a fun pastime, but it can also be a great stress reliever. Just six minutes of reading can slow down your heart rate, relieve muscle tension, and reduce your stress by up to 68%. 10 In fact, reading is a more efficient stress reliever than other common relaxation methods, like listening to music. 11
Improve Your Concentration
In today’s world, you may check your phone, send an email, post on social media, and read some notifications all in just a few minutes. Reading forces you to stop multitasking and focus all your attention on the story. Practicing this type of concentration can help you increase your attention span and stay more focused on tasks at hand.
How To Read More Books
Reading has many health benefits, and offers a fun, free pastime. To work reading into your daily life, start with a book that interests you - don’t worry about picking a famous classic or a New York Times® best seller. Then, work some time into your daily routine to read. Many people read before bed to help them relax, while others ease into the morning by reading a chapter or two when they wake up. To sneak in more reading, start bringing a book with you and read it in your spare time. You’ll be surprised about how many pages you can read while you’re waiting in line, at doctor’s appointments, or while waiting for a call!
6 Robert S. Wilson PhD, Patricia A. Boyle PhD, Lei Yu, PhD, et al: “Life-span Cognitive Activity, Neuropathologic Burden, and Cognitive Aging.” Neurology, Vol. 81. 2013.
7 Prashanthi Vemuri, PhD, Elizabeth C. Mormino, PhD: “Cognitive Stimulating Activities to Keep Dementia at Bay.” Neurology, Vol 81. 2013
8 Bal PM, Veltkamp M (2013) How Does Fiction Reading Influence Empathy? An Experimental Investigation on the Role of Emotional Transportation. PLoS ONE 8(1): e55341. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0055341