The best thing you can do for your brain today requires minimal money, space, and time—just pick up a good book. Out of the countless methods to improve everything from memory to sleep quality, the most tried-and-true option is to read, experts say. And just as you should exercise or eat vegetables each day, you reap the most brain-boosting rewards when you read regularly. Here are some of the amazing benefits of reading every day.
You could boost your IQ
Bookworms, you’re in luck: Research suggests that children who are strong readers could become more intelligent adults. A decade-long study by the UK’s Society for Research in Child Development analyzed the cognitive development of nearly 2,000 sets of identical twins, comparing them by their reading skills and test scores. The results showed that the twin with the best early reading skills scored higher on intelligence tests as a teenager than his or her less literacy-inclined sibling. That said, you’re never too old to start reading one of the 100 books everyone has to read in their lifetime.
Your stress levels could go down
If you’re feeling stretched thin, a novel might be the best medicine. Reading for 30 minutes is as relaxing as doing 30 minutes of yoga, according to a 2009 study. Better yet, British researchers at the University of Sussex found that just six minutes of reading a day lowered participants’ stress levels by 68 percent; going for a walk, drinking a cup of tea or coffee, and listening to music were less effective by comparison. “It really doesn’t matter what book you read,” the study’s author said. “By losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world.”
Your vocabulary could improve
It’s the classic chicken-and-egg conundrum: Does a love for reading lead to a better vocabulary, or vice-versa? Back in the 1990s, leading researcher Keith Stanovich and his colleagues put this question to the test. Using the Author Recognition Test (ART) to measure their subjects’ reading skills, they found that people who read regularly had around a 50 percent larger vocabulary and 50 percent more fact-based knowledge, on average, compared to non-readers. Test your own vocab skills by taking the Princeton Review’s high school English quiz.
You might add years to your life
When researchers at Yale University tracked thousands of adults over the age of 50 for 12 years, they discovered that participants who read books for 30 minutes a day lived nearly two years longer than those who read magazines or newspapers. What’s more, those who read more than 3.5 hours per week were 23 percent less likely to die during the course of the study. The bottom line? “The benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read them,” the researchers wrote.
You might become better at empathizing
In addition to improving your plain old IQ, reading may also boost your emotional IQ. A 2013 Harvard study found that volunteers who read literary fiction were better at identifying the emotions in facial expressions than those who read popular fiction, nonfiction, or nothing. Why, you ask? “The more fiction people read, the better they end up understanding the social world from simply observing subtle cues in their environment,” Maja Djikic, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, tells Readers’ Digest.
You will give your brain a workout
Forget crossword puzzles; for true cranial calisthenics, try cracking open a book. In a 2013 study published by the journal Brain Connectivity, college students who read a fictional story showed increased connectivity in the area of their brains associated with language and memory for up to five days later. Like building muscle memory when you run, reading every day can train your mind to activate and improve your cognitive functions, the study’s authors explained. We recommend “exercising” with one of these 18 classic books you can read in one day.
You can bond with your children
It’s no secret that reading to children can have a laundry list of benefits for their literacy skills, intelligence, and even future employment. But believe it or not, the type of book you read with them can make a difference, too. According to a 2019 study published in the journal Pediatrics, parents who read from printed books, rather than tablets or e-readers, have the most meaningful verbal and nonverbal interactions (and therefore the closest connections!) with their children.
Your risk of dementia could decrease
Having a rich vocabulary may keep your mind sharp as you age, according to a team at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. After evaluating the vocabulary test scores of more than 300 participants over the age of 50, the researchers found that volunteers with the highest scores had a three to four times lower risk of cognitive decline than those with the lower scores. But don’t stop there—reading is just one of the 50 everyday habits that can reduce your risk of dementia.