14 Ways Reading Improves Your Mind and Body (Infographic)

Posted 27 Nov 2016, by

Brendan Brown

As any avid book reader can tell you, immersing yourself in a great book can make your brain come alive. It sounds romantic, but science is now proving this to be true.

When we read, not only are we improving memory and empathy, but research has shown that it makes us feel better and more positive too. Science has shown that reading has some amazing health benefits, including helping with depression, cutting stress, and reducing the chances of developing Alzheimer’s later in life.

If you’re one of countless people who don’t make a habit of reading regularly, you might be missing out. To be inspired to become an avid reader, we’ve created the infographic below on the brain-boosting benefits of reading.

You may not think about this at all as you are cozying up and about open a book, but reading is an activity that can make you sharper, stronger, happier, and have better relationships to boot.

Reading is an exercise for the brain which can strengthen neuronal pathways as well as create new ones. Being immersed in a book can help reduce stress and improve sleep. From encouraging the development of children’s brains to staving off dementia in the elderly, reading can be the key to living better and longer.

Written Words Haven’t Been Around That Long

The first evidence of written language go back to approximately 5000 years ago. Humans, however, have been around for about 200,000 years. The time frame between which humans acquired a spoken language is between 200,000 years ago and 50,000 years ago. These humans may have well been illiterate.

Writing and reading rewires the human brain, and changed human civilization.

Reading Affects Your Brain

What happens when a literate human reads a written word? The word is processed from the eyes to the occipital lobe at the back of the brain. The word then becomes recognized in the left fusiform gyrus, a part of the brain that is only developed in literate people. Recognized as a symbol, and not as patterns or shapes, the word and its letters can thus be identified in any font, case, or typeface. This data is subsequently processed in the language areas of the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which can decipher the word’s meaning and as well as how it is pronounced.

Whether you are studying a book for school, or just reading for pleasure, the storyline, characters, subplots, and various other details that make up a book stimulate your memory and the ability to recall. The consumption of complex poetry has been shown to be especially helpful in stimulating brain function in areas of language and personal memory.

Poetry from Shakespeare, Wordsworth, T.S. Eliot, and others were used in a 2006 study at the University of Liverpool. It was found that the more complex the text is, the stronger the activity shown in the language areas of the brain. In addition, the regions of the brain associated with personal memories were found to be active during reading as well, indicative of how poetry can nudge us to draw from personal experiences.

You brain can remain active even after reading your book. The increased brain activity associated with reading pages in a book the night before was found to last for at least several days after reading, according to a 2013 study at Emory University. This “shadow activity” is analogous to muscle memory, and was shown in the left temporal cortex, an area associated with language.

Does the way you read make a difference in how your brain responds? Yes it does. In fact, the brain reacts differently to different types of focus when you are reading. In a 2012 study at Stanford University, blood flow in the brain was examined through functional magnetic resonance imaging as people read Jane Austen.

When reading in a focussed manner, similar to the manner in which you would study for a test, blood flow was globally increased, demonstrating that focussed attention during reading necessitates the orchestration of many different cognitive functions. When subjects were asked to read in a leisurely manner, regions different than those enhanced by focussed reading experienced increased blood flow.

Reading Affects Your Mental and Physical Health

It has been shown that reading can reduce stress levels by 68%. If you incorporate reading into your bedtime ritual, you can help yourself sleep better too. You may want to avoid using your computer or e-reader to read when you are about to go to sleep.

A 2016 study published in PNAS found the use of electronic devices before bedtime can disrupt your sleep and circadian rhythm timing. If you find yourself typing away on your computer writing your thesis or dissertation every night and not getting enough sleep, consider having your work professionally edited.

Depressed patients have been found to benefit from reading stories out loud with other people, as well as reading self-help books which can help elevate their mood. Elderly people who regularly read books or participated in mentally engaging tasks were two and a half times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

Empathy is a quality that can be developed from reading books. When you read about characters in the story, you are able to understand where that character is coming from. This ability can be carried out into your life, and better relationships can be formed as a result. Having a good social network has been found to help you live a longer life

Reading Enhances a Child’s Development

Children who read can extrapolate what they learned in books to various scenarios. Things such as cause and effect, empathy, and rational or moral judgement are just some of the things children can grasp from reading.

Young children who are learning to read begin to develop their brain’s left fusiform gyrus, where the learned words and letters are stored. The more they read, the more connections are formed between the visual and language parts of the brain.

Go Find a Book to Read

As you can see, reading can not only strengthen your brain but also affects many other areas of your life.  What are you waiting for? Make a trip to your local library or book store, and pick up an interesting book to read today!

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