Whether you’re into biographies or bodice-ripping romances, there’s nothing like a good book. Since the first novel was published in Japan 1,000 years ago, we’ve been transported by the power of words, but reading doesn’t just boost your imagination—it can also strengthen your brain.
“Reading activates neural circuits controlling vision, language, and learning and can lead to improved memory, thinking and mood,” Dr. Gary Small, a geriatric psychiatrist and one of America’s leading memory experts, told Newsweek .
But you don’t have to power through a 500-page paperback in one sitting to reap the benefits. Here’s why reading a book is good for you, and how you can fit this brain-booster into daily life. A stock image of a young woman carrying a stack of books. Reading doesn’t just boost your imagination—it can also strengthen your brain. iStock / Getty Images SUBSCRIBE NOW FROM JUST $1 > Why is Reading Good For Your Brain?
Reading is actually a pretty impressive skill and one that sets us apart from other species in the animal kingdom. Research by MIT suggests that our brains “recycled” part of our visual cortex, the area responsible for recognizing objects, to understand patterns, allowing us to read. So, it’s no surprise that books have a noticeable impact on our noggins.
“We can measure these effects with brain scans and neuropsychological tests that assess cognitive abilities and mood states,” Small said. “Reading will stimulate the brain’s left hemisphere in temporal, frontal and parietal regions that control language, speech, thinking and mood.”
Here are five reasons why reading is good for your brain.
SIGN UP FOR NEWSWEEK’S EMAIL UPDATES > It Can Improve Your Concentration
Struggling to focus? According to Small, reading strengthens the white matter in your brain, making it easier to concentrate.
“White matter functions as insulation, wrapping around long nerve cell wires,” Small said. “These wires serve as communication connections between brain cells.”
White matter helps to relay information between different areas of your brain and it is important for focus and learning. A 2012 study by the University of Stanford found that the white matter of children with below-average reading skills increased when they read more, with the effects measured over a three-year period. A stock photo of a young woman reading a book. Reading strengthens the white matter in your brain, making it easier to concentrate. Daniel de la Hoz/iStock/Getty Images Plus It Can Boost Your Mood and Reduce Anxiety
If you’re having a bad day, swap the doom-scrolling for a book. While endlessly thumbing through social media can give you a quick dopamine hit, it can also leave you feeling low. However, literature, particularly fiction, can improve your mood .
“Reading can reduce anxiety,” Small said. “Becoming engrossed in a compelling narrative helps anxious people escape their obsessive and negative thinking.” It Can Spark Your Creative Instincts
If you find yourself stuck in a creative rut, then reading might be the answer to your imagination’s prayers. A study published in the journal Thinking Skills and Creativity surveyed almost 200 university students and found that those that read or write regularly scored higher in a creativity test than those who did not.
“When we read, we use our imagination, which strengthens the neural circuits controlling that mental task,” Small said. “Considering the ideas and creativity of the material sparks the reader’s ability to come up with novel thoughts.” It Can Boost Your Vocabulary
With research showing that vocabulary is important for academic and social opportunities, expanding your lexicon can only be a good thing. Fortunately, reading regularly means you’re less likely to be lost for words.
“When we read, we learn new words and concepts that enhance vocabulary and creative thinking,” Small said.
But put that dictionary down, as reading something you love is just as beneficial, according to Small.
“Reading is an enjoyable form of brain exercise that helps us relax, escape our everyday worries, and reduce stress levels,” he said. “Less stress translates to less distraction and better cognitive performance.” A stock photo of a grandfather reading a book to his grandson. Reading has been proven to boost brain power for all ages. evgenyatamanenko/iStock/Getty Images Plus It Can Slow Age-Related Mental Decline
Although aging is inevitable, there are things you can do to keep your brain sharper for longer—and reading is one of them.
In a 14-year study published in the journal International Psychogeriatrics , researchers tracked the mental decline of 1,900 people aged 64 and over. They found that people who read more than once a week retained cognitive function better than non-readers, regardless of their education level.
“Many stimulating mental activities, such as reading, have been linked to slower cognitive decline,” Small said. “Mental stimulation activates neural circuits, which strengthens and protects them from age-related dysfunction.” Should I Read Fiction or Non-Fiction?
Although both fiction and non-fiction are good for your brain health, they have different advantages.
“A 2013 study published in Science showed that literary fiction can improve the ability to interpret another person’s mental state, intentions and beliefs,” Small said. “Reading non-fiction is thought to improve concentration, general knowledge and problem-solving skills.” What’s the Difference Between a Paper Book and a Screen?
A 2018 study involving more than 170,000 readers and published in the Educational Research Review discovered that reading comprehension was better for book lovers than screen fans.
Reading online comes with more distractions than reading from a page, meaning you’re more likely to skim the content and retain less information.
But what about e-readers? Experts are split on which category devices such as Amazon Kindles fall into, but they do emit blue light, which can interfere with your sleep in the same way cell phones and TV screens do. A stock photo shows a man in a library. Reading both fiction and non-fiction is good for your brain. anyaberkut/iStock/Getty Images Plus How Often Should I Read to See Benefits? If you’ve never been much of reader or you’ve fallen out of the habit, Small recommends starting slowly.”My studies of brain function and health suggest that it’s best to train but […]