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Apr 06 2017
by Natasha Beauchesne

7 Scientific Benefits of Reading

By Natasha Beauchesne - Apr 06 2017
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We all know after a long day of classes or studying for finals that the last thing we want to do is open up a book and read. Even for devoted, life-long readers, it’s a lot easier to turn on Netflix and binge-watch The Office than it is to read for fun.

However, reading itself has plenty of benefits. Though it may be hard to find the time to read for leisure outside of classes, it really does make a difference in both mental and physical health. So, if you need more convincing to maybe crack open a book rather than endlessly scrolling through Tumblr, here are eight scientific benefits of reading.

1. Fall Asleep Easier

At the end of a long day, instead of watching Breaking Bad or visiting Facebook a dozen times on your phone, try opening a book and reading. Even if you don’t make it through a chapter or even a page without falling asleep, that’s OK. There’s a reason why reading makes us sleepy, as opposed to watching television or texting on our phones, and the reason is — you guessed it — books don’t emit the blue light that electronic screens do. So whether you intend to fall asleep or you’re simply winding down a long day, reading can help you fall asleep quicker. Most sleep experts recommend creating a distressing routine before bedtime, and reading is a recommended part of it. Unless your book is action-packed and more stressful than relaxing, reading a few pages before bed can be a great way to cue your body that it’s time to sleep.

2. Increased Empathy

This one is directly related to reading fiction. Being a bookworm can actually help transform you into a person who can better understand others’ motivations and emotions. Research at the University of Toronto discovered that the more fiction a person read, the higher they scored on social awareness and empathy tests, such as being able to accurately read emotions in people’s eyes or being able to take another person’s perspective. So when you just can’t seem to understand other people at all, reading just might provide you with another perspective and leave you a better person for it.

3. Decreased Risk of Alzheimer's

We all know that reading takes a lot of brainpower. The amount of mental cognition involved in reading may help lower the levels of brain protein typically associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Specifically, the beta amyloid protein associated with Alzheimer’s was found to be much lower in people who had taken part in cognitively stimulating activities, such as reading, writing or playing games. The lead researcher, Susan Landau, of this evidence has said that there is a direct association between activities that require a lot of mental thinking and the amount of beta amyloid protein that is partly responsible for Alzheimer’s disease. Before you get too old, maybe get to reading.

4. Lowers Stress

Ah yes, the benefit that we’ve all been waiting for. Who doesn’t need a good, relaxing night spent reading every once in awhile? Reading is the best way to destress, research shows, being even more effective than listening to music, taking a walk, having a cup of tea or playing video games. During the study, after only six minutes of silent reading, participants’ heart rate slowed and their muscles relaxed. Psychologists believe this is because when you read a book, you must be focused on reading and, as a result, you get mentally carried away into the distraction of a whole literary world.

5. Increase Tolerance for Uncertainty

Every day, we must deal with a certain level of uncertainty. What will so-and-so think of me? What will my future career be? Will everything turn out OK? A huge part of life is learning to live with this uncertainty and how to not always need answers for everything. Fortunately for bookworms, reading can increase your tolerance for uncertainty. Researchers at the University of Toronto found that people who had just read a short story had less of a need for closure, or certainty, than peers who had just read an essay. This suggests that people who read literature are more likely to become more comfortable with not knowing all the answers. And this makes sense — when reading a story, the type of thinking you engage in doesn’t necessarily lead you to a decision. Additionally, along with increased empathy, reading can help open your mind to a new perspective and can be conducive to greater creativity. After all, when you are comfortable with ambiguity, you are more able to think outside the box and venture into unknown territories of thought.

6. Ease Depression

A study written in the scientific journal PLOS ONE indicates that reading can help ease symptoms of depression. Specifically, self-help books combined with therapeutic support sessions, lowered depression symptoms much better than just therapy alone. This suggests that reading books, especially books that include characters and themes you can relate to, or books that offer advice can help to improve your mental health.

7. Increased Intelligence

You don’t need science to tell you that reading is good for your brain. Reading brings with it a whole slew of mental benefits — including increased intelligence. Psychologists have three definitions of intelligence, and reading benefits all three. We can think of the first, crystallized intelligence, as a collection of knowledge with a purpose. Learning people’s names or how to fix a tire isn’t just information stored in your brain; it’s knowledge that will one day come in handy. Reading adds to your crystallized intelligence by adding to your vocabulary, thus strengthening your ability to navigate the world and communicate with those around you. Fluid intelligence is what we think of as the ability to problem solve, understand things and detect patterns. Reading helps with this because as we read, we constantly are thinking, reasoning and trying to remember things that happened earlier in the book. And finally, the third kind of intelligence is emotional intelligence. This goes back to benefit number two, in which frequent readers will be more likely to be more empathetic and, as a result, more emotionally in tune with those around them.

Go forth and become avid readers, my friends. Fill your bookshelves and read to your heart's content, because all the evidence so far points to reading being your best friend. Get lost in the pages of your favorite novel every once and while, and reap all the benefits from it.

Lead Image Credit: Giulia Bertelli via Unsplash

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Natasha Beauchesne -

Natasha Beauchesne is a freshman at Le Moyne College majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing. She enjoys reading, running, yoga, and cuddling with her cats. If you have any leftovers, she will most certainly eat them all for you. Follow her on Twitter @tashabeau

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