I’m an avid reader and I always have been. So when someone says to me, with a vaguely superior air (and this happens surprisingly often): “Oh, I don’t read fiction. I don’t have time for that. I’m too busy; I have more important things to do…”, well, this is how I feel:
I’m sorry…what did you just say?
Today’s post is my contribution to Tackle Your TBR Read-A-Thon , a super fun reading challenge hosted by Tressa’s Wishful Endings and Colorimetry. And, to my fellow Read-a-thon-ers, I’m pretty sure your reaction to a self-professed “non-reader” is about the same as mine.
I know. It’s barely comprehensible when someone says they don’t read, that they don’t have time for fiction.
Because you and I know the truth. We know there is nothing like it. It’s enriching, relaxing, entertaining, enlightening…so many things. And, here’s a little secret you can keep tucked inside your pocket, to use as ammo should the need ever arise: there are health benefits to reading.
Yep, true story.
Research has recently started unearthing bona fide health benefits to reading on a regular basis.
Besides being a published author, I’m also a family doctor. Helping people stay healthy is my day job. Of course I’m always recommending healthy behaviors like exercise and eating veggies, but I also frequently recommend reading. And here’s why:
Reading has been shown to reduce stress by 68%. In a British study in 2009, reading was found to be a more effective de-stresser than going for a walk, listening to music, or having a cup of tea. One of the researchers was quoted as saying: “Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation.”
I can personally attest to this. In the middle of a pretty stressful phase of life–when I was a medical resident working 100-hour work weeks and doing regular stints in the hospital that stretched on for 36 hours at a time (yes, really)–I turned to reading for stress relief. That’s because when I was on call, in the middle of the night, if I got a chance to slip up to the call room to grab an hour or two of sleep, here’s what I found: I couldn’t fall asleep. My brain was still churning away like a Vitamix blender. So I started bringing a novel with me to the hospital. Even though I was so busy and had precious little time, if I crawled into the call bed and read just a few pages of a novel first, I’d be able to drop off to sleep without difficulty.
Non-readers sometimes like to suggest that reading fiction, in particular, is a waste of time. The argument being: if you’re going to read, it should be something intellectual, something non-fiction at the very least, if you want to actually benefit from it. But the fact is, reading fiction provides a whole lot of cognitive benefit, and exercises completely different areas of your brain than non-fiction. There’s imagination, processing, emotional response, comprehension, association…it’s like giving your brain a workout. It also improves your vocabulary, and stimulates your creativity.
Research has shown that creative and intellectual hobbies, like reading, slow down the cognitive decline that happens later in life. Adults who read books on a regular basis have a 32% slower rate of mental decline as they age than those who do not.
That’s a whole lot less “Now where did I leave my keys…”
Two studies published this summer showed that reading fiction exercises your empathy muscles. Researchers found that reading even a few pages can boost empathy, improve decision-making, and make you more comfortable with uncertainty. Here’s why this happens: when you read a story, you vicariously experience a character’s feelings, ideas, and thoughts. For your brain, it’s like experiencing a slice of another life.
In short, the hobby you use to escape real life may actually make you better at living it. Instead of being an anti-social habit, reading is an activity that enhances your social skills. Take that, judgy non-readers.
So there you go. Permission to read: granted. (I can write you a prescription if you need it.)
One last bit of good news: in the spirit of the Read-a-thon, I’m doing a giveaway of my debut novel A BEAUTIFUL HEIST (Agency of Burglary & Theft #1). I’m giving away one paperback copy to one lucky winner. Yay!
To enter, hop on over to Colorimetry and enter via the Rafflecopter box. I should mention that this giveaway is only open to registered participants in the TYTBR Read-a-thon–if that’s not you, it’s not too late to sign up!