When you take a book, you might expect the intellectual benefits it will bring you: new knowledge, a wider vocabulary, or even a chance to get in touch with your feelings. But did you know that reading is also good for your body?
The brain and the body do not exist independently of each other – they are part of an interconnected whole, and what affects one can affect the other. While reading stimulates your mind, its effects also translate into cool physical benefits. Don’t just take our word for it: here are the research-supported reading methods that are good for your body.
It reduces stress
A 2009 study on students in high stress health science programs compared the effects of reading, yoga and humor. What the researchers found might surprise you: reading was just as effective as yoga and humor in reducing stress, and students had to read for just 30 minutes to get these stress reduction results.
Reading not only reduced the psychological feeling of stress for these students, it actually lowered their heart rate and blood pressure, also reducing the physical effects of stress. So even if you can’t go to a yoga class or a comedy club to relieve your stress, picking up a book for half an hour can be just as effective.
In fact, you may even be able to reap the stress-reducing benefits of shorter reading sessions. Yet another study (also from 2009) found that reading for just six minutes could reduce stress by 68 percent, even more than walking or listening to music. Study participants who read had reduced muscle tension and a slower heart rate whether they read newspapers or books.
It helps you sleep
For many of us, the last thing we do before bed is to check email or social media one last time. Although most people know that it is not good for their sleep, it can be a welcome distraction from worrying about tomorrow’s responsibilities. If you get this distraction from a book instead, your sleep will show serious improvement.
Studies have established that using our smartphones just before bedtime results in poor quality sleep, and even less. Meanwhile, as seen above, the books help reduce stress in the mind and body, which can help you prepare for a good night’s sleep. If you have trouble falling asleep, try making reading part of your normal routine before bedtime and see what happens when you turn off the lights.
It helps medical recovery
Bibliotherapy is a therapeutic method that uses reading to help patients heal and resolve medical problems. Although it is most often used in the context of mental illness, bibliotherapy can also help people recover from physical illnesses.
Through reading, these patients find it easier to manage the diagnosis, recovery and all the effects that accompany this process. For example, in a study, patients recovering from a heart attack used poetry therapy to treat PTSD and the anxiety they felt during their recovery.
It increases blood flow
Many parts of your body need blood circulation to function, and your brain is no exception – yet another example of how the mind and body work together for your health.
Stanford researchers discovered something surprising by measuring the effects of reading on the brain: blood flow to various parts of the brain actually increased while participants read literary novels. Brain circulation is important for your brain to function properly, because this is how your brain gets the oxygen and nutrients it needs.
This can extend your life
Finally, reading may help you live longer.
A study over 3,500 people found that book readers lived on average longer than those who had just read magazines or not at all. People who spent more than three and a half hours a week reading tended to live the longest. While a single study isn’t entirely conclusive, given the other health benefits that reading can offer, it’s not hard to see how it could help extend lifespan.
Do you want to take advantage of these benefits for yourself? Easy – all you have to do is take a book. Trust us: reducing your time on social media or on TV is well worth the benefits that reading has to offer. Even if you’re not used to reading regularly, start now and you’ll soon wonder how you survived without this healthy and fun habit.