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5 Reasons to Read More

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This week, I challenged the members of the Optimal Health community to listen to an audiobook on their commute to work. With many of us working 30 minutes or more from our jobs, we are left with a lot of time sitting still in our cars or on the train. We could aimlessly browse social media (if you’re not driving!) or listen to some music, or you could get lost in a book and engage a completely different part of your brain.

Whether you’re learning something new from a piece of non-fiction or simply slipping into a fictional world that challenges your brain in other ways, books are a wonderful tool for improving our health, and audiobooks are an easy way to reap these benefits on these go.

Audio or text, picking up a book is a Habit of Health that produces a number of rewards. Here are 5 reasons you should read more:

1. Books could improve your sleep. Instead of playing on your phone late into the night, turn off your devices and pick up a book. You get the mental stimulation you crave with a book without the sleep-disrupting brightness of a phone screen, and the book has the added benefit of being notification-free. You won’t see one of your work emails pop up in the middle of Harry Potter to fill you with stress when you should be drifting off into relaxing sleep.

2. Books are exercise for your brain. Reading is like a workout for your mind, which might be an important part of preventing cognitive decline according to recent research. The current literature on brain health suggests that engaging your mind in learning new things or stimulating it to think critically helps to keep us sharp, and books are one way to consistently get this mental exercise.

3. Reading can reduce stress. Research out of the University of Sussex (David Lewis, 2009) found that reading a book could lower stress by as much as 68%. With stress a common challenge in our modern world, a challenge that aggravates or contributes to a multitude of health problems, having reliable ways to combat it is important. Feeling frazzled? Take a few minutes to read!

4. Learning is key for longevity. While the act of reading can exercise your brain and reduce stress, we should not forget the importance of learning for longevity. Forcing our brain to build new neural pathways through little things like using our offhand to do chores is one way to keep our brain healthy, but having hobbies that are mentally engaging are important as well (and perhaps more fun!). If you like boating, for example, pick up a book on the topic to stay engaged with your hobby even when you can’t be out on the water. Not only do we benefit from absorbing more knowledge, but if we’re reading fiction we can benefit from subtle learning opportunities like new words and emotional challenges for characters.

5. Books are good for building relationships. When you are consistently taking in new ideas and new knowledge, you will likely have more to talk about with your friends and your loved ones, and good conversation is always beneficial for keeping those bonds strong. At the same time, one study found that reading fiction might actually make us more empathetic because it gives us a way to see problems from other points of view and to imagine what someone other than ourselves might feel.

If you don’t consider yourself a reader, it’s okay! You don’t have to pick up War & Peace to enjoy the benefits of a book. Grab a book on your favorite hobby or perhaps a biography of someone you admire. If you feel like you are too busy to read, audiobooks can help with that. Your local library will likely have books on CD that you can check out, and a number of online audiobook services offer free trials. Books are fun, and it doesn’t matter where you start as long as you start!

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