When you pick up a book, you might look forward to the intellectual benefits it will bring you: new knowledge, an expanded vocabulary, or even a chance to get more in touch with your feelings. But did you know that reading is good for your body, too?
The brain and the body don’t exist independently of each other—they’re part of an interconnected whole, and what affects one can affect the other. While reading stimulates your mind, its effects also translate to some cool physical benefits. Don’t just take our word for it: Here are the research-supported ways reading is 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 for reducing stress, and students had to read for only 30 minutes to get these stress-reducing results.
Reading didn’t just reduce the psychological feeling of stress for these students—it actually lowered their heart rates and blood pressures, reducing the physical effects of stress, too. So, even if you can’t get to a yoga class or a comedy club to reduce your stress, picking up a book for half an hour can be just as effective.
In fact, you might even be able to reap stress-reducing benefits from shorter reading sessions. Still another study (also from 2009) found that reading for just six minutes could reduce stress by 68 percent—more so than taking a walk or listening to music. Study participants who read had reduced muscle tension and slower heart rates, whether they were reading newspapers or books.
It Helps You Sleep
For many of us, the last thing we do before bed is to check our email or social media one last time. While most people know this isn’t good for their sleep, it can be a welcome distraction from worrying about tomorrow’s responsibilities. If you get that distraction from a book instead, your sleep will show serious improvement.
Studies have established that using our smartphones right before bed results in low-quality sleep, and less of it. Meanwhile, as seen above, books help reduce stress in the mind and body, which can help prepare you for a good night’s sleep. If you have trouble falling asleep, try to make reading a part of your normal pre-bedtime routine and see what happens when you switch off the light.
It Assists Medical Recovery
Bibliotherapy is a therapeutic method that uses reading to help patients heal and address medical issues. Although it’s most often used in the context of mental illness, bibliotherapy can also help people recover from physical ailments.
Through reading, these patients find it easier to deal with diagnosis, recovery, and all the effects that come with this process. For example, in one study, recovering heart attack patients used poetry therapy to address the PTSD and anxiety they experienced during recovery.
It Increases Blood Flow
Many of your body parts need blood flow in order to function, and your brain is no exception—yet another example of how the mind and body work together for your health.
Researchers at Stanford discovered something surprising while measuring reading’s effects on the brain: Blood flow to various parts of the brain actually increased while participants read literary novels. Cerebral circulation is important for your brain to function properly because that’s how your brain gets the oxygen and nutrients it needs.
It Can Extend Your Lifespan
Lastly, it’s possible that reading might actually help you live longer.
One study of over 3,500 people found that book readers lived longer, on average, than those who 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 exactly conclusive, given the other health benefits reading can offer, it’s not hard to see how it might help lengthen lifespans.
Want to reap these benefits for yourself? Easy—all you have to do is pick up a book. Trust us: Cutting back on your social media or television time is well worth the benefits reading has to offer. Even if you’re not in the habit of reading regularly, get started now, and soon you’ll wonder how you ever survived without this healthy and fun habit.