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Goods News for Bookworms: Reading Delivers Big Benefits for Sleep, Memory and More

Reading is especially important later in life — it may even help delay Alzheimer's disease onset

Who doesn’t love diving into a captivating book? Whether you’re getting lost in a thrilling novel or indulging in the latest rom-com, reading is a delightful escape. But did you know that this enjoyable pastime is also a secret weapon for your health? Beyond the joy of discovering new worlds and characters, reading can support your heart, improve your memory and ease stress. Here, an expert explains why reading is one key to healthy aging, plus we share four key benefits of reading.

How reading benefits us age we age

Reading regularly can be particularly beneficial as we enter midlife (and beyond). “With our brains, just like our heart or muscles, if we don’t use it — we lose it,” says Christine Gibson, MD, board-certified family doctor and trauma therapist. “Our brain specifically strengthens pathways that it needs to use more often. So reading comprehension, critical thinking skills and learning new information is something that we can practice. This gets more important as we age, because neuroplasticity [the brain’s ability to rewire] is highest in children and really slows down after our twenties.”

The top 4 benefits of reading

These scientific benefits can inspire you to make a date at your local library.

1. Less stress

mature woman smiling with reduced stress, one of the benefits of reading

Ever reach for a good book at the end of a stressful day? There’s a reason we’re drawn to reading when we’re feeling tense or overwhelmed. Reading can help you unwind and distract you from everyday stressors by slowing your heart rate and relaxing your muscles.

According to a University of Sussex study, reading for just six minutes can reduce stress levels by up to 68%. And another study in a medical journal found that 30 minutes of reading can lower your blood pressure and heart rate. Plus it reduces feelings of psychological distress as effectively as yoga and humor, researchers found.

2. A sharper memory

“There’s demonstrative effectiveness from cognitive training programs in older adults who have mild cognitive impairment, which is early dementia,” says Dr. Gibson. “Some of the cognitive interventions studied do involve reading, but many other interventions also include problem-solving, memory practice or processing speed [finding images].” In fact, a study in Neurology found that reading, along with other forms of high level cognitive activity, can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by 5 years in people 80 years and older.

Dr. Gibson adds that reading “can help delay some of the significant symptoms” associated with dementia, such as memory troubles. A study in Frontiers in Psychology found that people who read books for eight weeks showed significant improvements in working memory and episodic memory. Working memory is the ability to hold things in your mind while doing other mental tasks, while episodic memory is the ability to remember events.

3. Better sleep

mature woman sleeping well in bed with her eyes closed on a pillow, one of the benefits of reading

You don’t need pills to get a better night’s sleep. Dr. Gibson says “most people benefit from calming and soothing activities for our brain before we sleep. Anything that brings joy and calm is more likely to put you in the best brain state for sleep.”

Dr. Gibson points to a study in Trials where participants were asked to read a book before bed. After a week, “they found that 42% of people in the intervention group [who read books] felt their sleep improved compared to 28% of the control group [who didn’t read books].”

4. A healthier heart

“Reading is something we typically do in a parasympathetic state, or in the ‘rest and digest’ nervous system,” explains Dr. Gibson. “This is when our heart beat slows, our blood pressure drops and our immune system kicks in. So many of us are spending a lot of time in sympathetic, movement-based states. It’s important to balance that out with time that we can relax and allow a better balance.”

Additionally, reading something humorous (like your favorite comic strips or a comedian’s autobiography) is also good medicine for your heart. Research in a medical journal found that enjoying a chuckle at least once a day significantly reduces your risk of heart trouble and stroke. Laughter also spurs the release of blood vessel-widening nitric oxide. This allows for better blood flow, reducing pressure on your heart and arteries.

Need a little reading inspiration? Check out some books we’re loving now:

11 Best Nonfiction Books Guaranteed to Boost Happiness: From Memoirs to Journals + More!

14 Captivating Beach Reads You Won’t Be Able To Put Down This Summer

FIRST Summer Reading Guide: 13 Must-Read Books That Feel Like An Instant Vacation!

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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