WHY READING IS A 'SUPERFOOD' FOR YOUR BRAIN
I have a secret – I am obsessed with reading. It is one of the things I look forward to each day, and has firmly been part of my nighttime routine for as long as I can remember. I had always felt like it was a guilty pleasure, but the truth is, it’s actually shockingly beneficial for improving your brain health and function.
Reading isn’t new tech.
It isn’t something that sounds super sexy or exciting or elicits that FOMO response which drives the world of biohacking and nootropics, but recent scientific studiesconfirm that reading is one of the best activities for improving your cognition, intelligence, and even empathy.
So, yes, you are reading now, but the true benefits don’t really come from reading little blogs – or worse – scrolling through Twitter or Facebook. Not that you should just stop reading this blog, because I promise you will learn something, even if it isn’t directly enhancing your cognition.
The reading I’m talking about is long form, like novels. And, yes, fiction is as beneficial as non-fiction.
Here’s how long-form reading improves your cognition:
Increased White Matter in the Brain
A 2009 study of 72 children between the ages of eight and ten, showed that reading created new white matter in the brain, which improves system-wide communication (for context, white matter is the material that carries information between regions of grey matter in your brain, where all information is processed).
Beyond that, reading not only increases white matter, it helps the information communicated in your brain to be processed more efficiently.
Increased Compassion and Empathy
Circling back to fiction and its benefits, when you’re reading first person emotional experiences of fictional characters, your brain isn’t just reading the words on the page, it is actually processing them as real events. You are experiencing empathy for the characters, and are learning new ways of coping in your own real-world situations, while deepening your compassion for your fellow humans.
Next time you find yourself in an argument with a friend or silently cursing someone for driving poorly, your brain might link the situation to one you’ve read and a little bud of compassion might bloom.
Which actually benefits you more than you might expect by shifting you out of anger or frustration to a more calm, peaceful state of mind (looks like reading might also help with your mental wellbeing too).
This experience where you find yourself consciously shifting your perspective from blame and frustration to compassion and empathy, is emotional intelligence in action.
So, yeah, reading also increases your emotional intelligence.
Increased Crystallized and Fluid Intelligence
If that weren’t impressive enough, reading has also been shown to increase both your ‘crystallized intelligence’ and your ‘fluid intelligence’ as well.
Crystallized intelligence comes from your learning of past experiences. So, when you read about fictional experiences your brain is ‘crystallizing’ that information as past experiences and storing it as knowledge for future events.
Fluid intelligence is about being able to think and reason abstractly and solve problems, which can be amplified by improving reading and writing skills, and subconsciously memorizing patterns.
Reading wins again!
The bad news is that fluid intelligence – along with overall cognition – declines as we age, but the good news is that reading, along with a healthy lifestyle, quality sleep, and optimal nutrition can help slow that decline.