Reading is Self-Care

Making time to read could be the key to a long and healthy life. "When things get really dark and times are really hard, stories give us places we can go where we can rest and feel held." -Emma Watson

Reading can be seen as a “lonely,” “academic,” and “lazy” hobby. Also, some people understandably feel bitter about reading after being forced to analyze certain books in school. Reading is a completely normal and healthy way to relieve stress and exercise your brain. It invokes creativity and intense feelings of empathy that force your brain to literally “escape.” During a global pandemic, being able to temporarily escape into a novel may be more important than ever. Here are all the reasons why reading is a valid form of self-care.


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Reading Promotes Empathy

Have you ever cried over a fictional character? If you have, you’re not alone! This may not just be an emotional reaction; researchers are beginning to connect avid readers to increased empathy. In fact, regular readers have been proven to have heightened empathy for other people, to the point that they can “feel” the pain of characters within novels.

In one study, two groups were separated by preferred reading genres: fiction and nonfiction. These participants took an empathy test after they finished reading, and the results were fascinating. Researchers discovered that the fiction readers had a heightened empathetic response. This is a phenomenon that researchers call the “theory of mind,” or skills essential for maintaining and managing relationships.

Reading Prevents Cognitive Decline

Reading could potentially prevent Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease later in life. This is because reading is very stimulating for the brain, forcing it to exercise and protect you from the development of lesions, tau-protein tangles, and plaques. In fact, one study discovered that people who continue to read later in life reduce their chances of cognitive decline by 32%.

Obviously, reading isn’t the definitive answer to prevent cognitive decline, and more research has yet to conclude its official brain benefits. However, there’s no denying that there’s a connection between improved brain health and reading. In fact, researchers are beginning to realize that the sooner you start reading, the less likely you’ll experience early cognitive decline.

Reading is a Natural Stress Reliever

Reading isn’t just a hobby; it really is a form of self-care. One study measured the effects of humor, Yoga, and reading combined with a group of health science students. They discovered that reading was one of the most successful stress relievers out of the three, to the point that it reduced heart rates, blood pressure, and feelings of mental discomfort.

The researchers concluded that this was most likely due to the convenience of reading. While exercises like Yoga are certainly healthy stress relievers, some people don’t have time to fit them into their schedule. Reading is an accessible, stress-relieving activity that can be slipped into any time slot, even if it’s as short as five minutes or as part of a bedtime routine.

Reading Reduces Symptoms of Depression

If you’ve been living with depression, reading may be a way to reduce symptoms of mental illness. Depression can invoke intense symptoms of loneliness, but books include characters that many people grow strong attachments to, whether they’re real or fictional. Reading can stimulate feelings of comfort and attachment, much like you would feel in the presence of a group of friends.

Paired with stress relief and heightened feelings of empathy, reading can provide a temporary “escape” from the real world. It forces you to stay present and live in the moment, allowing your body to periodically rest. Nonfiction fans living with depression can invest in self-help books that teach you positive coping mechanisms and promote self-reflection.

Reading Improves Sleep Hygiene

When you read, your body falls into a state like meditation. Much like deep relaxation, reading forces you to calm your body. For this reason, reading is great for people who struggle to sleep. These relaxation benefits make you drowsy, to the point that you may find yourself falling asleep mid-read.

Granted, this depends on the type of book and where you’re reading it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with reading e-books, but you may have to temporarily switch to handheld books when you’re trying to fall asleep. Like cell phones, reading e-books with backlights before bed could accidentally disrupt your sleep patterns. Also, consider reading in a separate chair away from your bed to encourage your body to completely relax before going to sleep.

Reading May Even Lengthen Your Lifespan

You might think this fact is an exaggeration, but a fascinating study suggests otherwise. This long-term health and retirement study discovered that regular readers lived up to two years longer than those who didn’t. This included people who read books as opposed to magazines or other miscellaneous forms of media.

To add to the intrigue, researchers concluded that participants who reported reading 3.5 hours a week had a 23% less chance of dying in the next 12 years. In other words, being an avid reader may mean you have a higher chance of living longer. This dispels the myth that reading is a “lazy” hobby. On the contrary, it could be the key to a healthy, prolonged life.

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