Like food (of both the kind we need, and the kind we crave), reading possesses a unique power to affect how we feel in body and mind - and to do good for both body and mind.
Sometimes a dose of fresh fruit and veg does the trick - revitalising the body and brain, putting a spring in your step, and a smile on your face, much like reading feel-good fiction. At other times a slab of stodgy comfort food is in order - something decadent to curl up with. Then there are times when only a cheeky takeaway will do, like needing to sink your teeth into an escapist novel that gives immediate gratification.
When it comes to absorbing nourishment from books - whatever kind you like to tuck into - the very act of reading has a huge host of benefits. From enhancing empathy, to prolonging life (yes, really - there’s science and everything), these 7 reasons reading is good for you are sure to provide plenty of food for thought.
1. Be a better human being
A number of scientific studies show that readers of fiction have greater empathy than non-readers, essentially because reading improves a person’s capacity to put themselves in other people’s shoes - an offshoot of becoming invested in protagonists encountered in fiction.
Alongside that overriding experience of living-through-others, the act of reading fiction also enables us to feel what others feel. Joy, grief, anger, hope - the full gamut of human emotions. This in turn helps us deal with experiencing such emotions, and helps us be more understanding when others experience them. In short, reading gives us greater emotional intelligence, which might be translated as helping us to be better human beings.
2. Improve mental health
Alongside enhancing our emotional intelligence, reading also has big benefits for the body - it can lower the heart rate, lower blood pressure, and reduce stress and tension by up to 68% according to a study undertaken by the University of Sussex, surpassing, for example, the benefits of listening to music.
3. Boost mental agility
Stanford academics have found that the increased blood flow readers experience during attentive reading sessions shows that "paying attention to literary texts requires the coordination of multiple complex cognitive functions” i.e. reading sharpens the brain and enhances analytical thinking - the positive effects of which become especially pronounced in older age.
And with studies showing that our attention spans are shortening due to consuming short, sharp bursts of social media text, it makes sense to read longer and deeper to counter that detrimental tendency.
4. Prolong life
Connected to reading’s capacity to boost mental agility, a Yale Health and Retirement Study found that “compared to non-book readers, book readers had a 23-month survival advantage.” In the study of 3635 people aged 50 or older, book readers - on average - were found to live almost two years longer than their non-reading counterparts.
5. Broaden the mind, build cultural understanding
In an age of quick-to-fight, intolerant keyboard warriors, reading’s capacity to broaden one’s outlook and foster cultural understanding is another indisputable reason reading is good for you and - in turn - for the wider world (there’s a reason political dictators ban or burn books).
Linking back to the empathy theme, reading books - novels or non-fiction - authored by writers with different cultural, social and personal backgrounds from one’s own really does broaden a person’s perspective and appreciation of other ways of thinking and living, perhaps even leading to a re-examination of how, and what, you think. Even the most long-held views can be challenged and shifted - all part of reading’s vital contribution to life’s rich journey.
6. Cultivate communication
It’s clear that absorbing a variety of styles, genres and kinds of reading material (newspapers, magazines, novels, comics and so on) enhances a person’s vocabulary and understanding of what words mean - context is king when it comes to comprehension. And from this it follows that reading can cultivate improved communication across all aspects of your life - from writing work reports and creative writing, to speaking in public and expressing your feelings to friends and partners. In short, reading helps you articulate yourself more accurately, more clearly, and with more impact.
7. Deepen knowledge
Finally, perhaps the most apparent reason reading is good for us - it increases our knowledge, both in an obvious sense of furnishing us with information on specific subjects (science, history, gardening, the universe and so on, ad infinitum), and in the sense of absorbing knowledge of other people’s lives and views. Which neatly takes us back to where we began - that all-important enhancing of empathy.
To experience these 7 reasons reading is good for you right now, explore the Star Books we’re passionate about, take a look at our specially curated themed Collections, or check out our fiction and non-fiction Books of the Month.