A reading habit has many health benefits

Reading is often a sedentary activity, but it also offers numerous health benefits. Reading regularly can help reduce stress and increase your empathic capabilities. But still, about one-fourth of Americans say they haven't read a single book in the past year, according to the Pew Research Center. If you haven't already developed a reading habit, here are a few reasons why you should start.

1. Stimulating your mind keeps your brain sharp

Research has shown that staying mentally simulated can slow the progression of Alzheimer's and Dementia. Completing puzzles and playing complex strategy games like chess are helpful with stimulation, but so does reading. What stimulates each person will vary, but you could try solving a mystery book before the protagonist does. Or by diving into a non-fiction book on a subject you want to learn more about. As long as the book is about something different than what you deal with every day, you're good to go.

2. Taking apart a book improves focus and analytical thinking

In the internet age, even waiting an entire second for a web page to load is too long. Our focus is often split between emails, social media, messages and our daily tasks. Instead of getting more work done, this kind of multitasking actually lowers productivity. When you read a book, you're completely focused on one thing. Everything else disappears. By practicing your focus, you can improve it in other aspects of your life. Research has also shown that reading can develop new neural networks in your brain. These networks can help you understand more complex thought. By analyzing the writing style of the author, the character and plot development and other elements of a book, you're keeping your mind sharp and flexible.

3. Diving into a story relieves stress

Reading a book can help provide escape from your worries — just like watching a movie or a TV show. However, reading is even more immersive than watching something. When you turn on your favorite drama, you're engaging in a passive activity. You just sit back and let the story unfold before you. But books are different. The reader literally has to sit there and read every word for the story to progress. Your mind is transported to another place for hours at a time. By giving your mind over to a story for a little while, all of that tension can just melt away.

4. Learning about new characters increases empathy

Studies have shown that people who read fiction test higher for empathy. By following the lives of fictional characters, you're used to putting yourself in someone else's shoes. This makes it even easier for you to understand other real life people. A good book can also help you work through problems in your own life. There's even a thing called bibliotherapy, where people carefully choose books (or follow recommendations) that will help them work through their own emotional issues.

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