6 ways reading improves your brain

6 ways reading improves your brain

In For the Love of Reading by Julia Malacoff

6 ways reading improves your brain
We all know reading is good for us. It exposes us to worlds different from our own, teaches us about new subjects, and helps us relax. But those are all relatively abstract pluses. One of the most incredible things about being a reader is that spending time with your favorite titles has a real, measurable impact on your health. In particular, reading has several positive brain benefits for people of all ages. Here are the top ones to know about.

1. It improves connections in your brain

If you’ve ever wondered what exactly happens in your brain when you read a novel, researchers have used MRI scanning to find out. Long story short, the researchers observed short and long-term increases in connectivity in people’s brains after reading a novel, especially in the regions related to language processing. They saw these increases the day after reading as well as five days after. So if you’re hoping to fire on all cylinders and you’ve got a reading habit, you’re in luck. 

2. Literary fiction may help build emotional intelligence

Reading literary fiction in particular (think: higher-brow or critically-acclaimed novels and short stories) has been shown to help increase empathy and understanding of how others might react in a given situation. This is no doubt a useful life skill that can contribute to all social parts of life including work, romantic relationships, friendships, and caregiving.

3. It can enhance creativity and imagination

If you’ve ever noticed yourself visualizing what you read, you’re not alone. In fact, reading helps teach your brain to form mental pictures based on words. It might be hard to see how that plays out in real life, but it can be a useful skill whether you’re brainstorming solutions to a problem, working in a creative profession, or getting imaginative with the kids in your life. 

4. It keeps your brain young

Reading both books and magazines may help lower the risk of Alzheimer’s-related impairment and dementia, according to the National Institute on Aging. Any type of reading for pleasure counts; it’s just about keeping your brain stimulated and active. 

5. Reading may help improve your memory

There’s a reason you may have had to memorize poems and other texts as a young child in school: Words and memory go hand in hand. So much so that some research has shown that leisure reading helps improve memory in older adults. If you’re looking to stay sharp at any time in life, digging into a new book is a solid way to accomplish that. 

6. It may help you sleep better

Reading before bed may help you finally get some decent sleep, research suggests. One study found that reading in bed improved sleep quality compared to not reading in bed. Wondering what that has to do with your brain? On the most basic level, sleep is good for your brain. We need enough high quality sleep in order to learn, focus, and be productive. Considering that an estimated 50–70 million Americans have chronic sleep disorders, it’s safe to say there are a lot of brains out there that could benefit from a little more shuteye — and reading before bed may be one strategy to start prioritizing your rest.


About the Author: Julia Malacoff

Julia is a freelance writer and editor who holds a BA in Art History from Wellesley College, and is also a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach. Her work experience includes writing, reporting, and editing for top publications, including Shape, InStyle, Cosmopolitan, as well as leading brands like Nike, Aveeno, and Precision Nutrition. She lives in London with her husband and two cocker spaniels. An avid reader, you can find her devouring her book club's latest pick — or anything by Zadie Smith, Blake Crouch, and Jeffrey Eugenides.
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