After years of speculation that fiction was dying in favor of internet articles, podcasts, and memes, fiction is back in a big way—and with a new sense of purpose. Celebrities are picking up novels and bidding their fans to join them; there is, of course, Oprah’s famed book club, but also the RW Book Club, led by none other than Reese Witherspoon, who cheerily introduces a new title on social media every month. If you’ve found books stashed around the New York City subway, it might be the work of Emma Watson, who uses her feminist book club to empower women to read—and then exponentially build on that empowerment in the rest of their lives. All across the country, men and women are gathering together to read and talk about books, and the benefits of the activity aren’t merely speculative—they’re proven by science.
Reading is one of the most important—and least recognized—wellness practices.
While meditation has become a dominant force in the wellness space, with trendy studios opening and tons of classes available online, it isn’t often acknowledged that reading is a form of mindfulness, one of the most science-backed forms of meditation. When you engage with other forms of entertainment that consume multiple senses, you can multitask and still get the gist of the content (raise your hand if you scroll through Instagram while watching television!). Reading, however, requires full concentration. If your mind drifts away from the words on the page, you have to find your way back to where you were before, focusing again on the words in front of you in the present moment. Sound familiar? Replace the words on the page with a mantra, and you’ve got the basis of Vedic or Transcendental Meditation. Sit and read one book for 20 minutes (as opposed to jumping around to different articles), and you’ve essentially engaged in a 20-minute meditation, reaping the myriad benefits of the practice, including lowered inflammation, increased immunity, greater levels of empathy, and more.
Beyond acting as a form of meditation, reading helps build the neuro-networks that improve our lives immeasurably—including reducing sugar cravings.
100 percent of humans have a sweet tooth. It’s an ancestral trait that allowed humans to survive. Our sweet tooth is a legacy, and now it’s catered to 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, which leads to obesity.
The problem? When we’re catering to this notion of stimulating the reward part of the brain with sugar, we strengthen that pathway to those reward areas of the brain that are involved with a neurotransmitter called dopamine, and it tends to distance us from connecting to the parts of our brain that aren’t involved in rewarding us moment to moment but are involved in our ability to be empathetic, to make long-term plans, to understand the long-term consequences of our day-to-day choices. We live in a society where we’re catering to the reward system of our brain moment to moment. Conversely, when we strengthen the parts of our brain that are involved in being empathetic (something reading fiction has been shown to do), we weaken the neural pathways to the reward areas of our brain that make us crave sugar.
Reading has also been shown to help prevent Alzheimer’s, and a study at the University of Sussex found that it reduced stress by 68 percent, more than listening to music (61 percent), having a cup of tea (54 percent), or taking a walk (42 percent). So what are you waiting for? Hit up the bookstore, dust off your library card, or download your favorite genre. Nothing but better health and happiness awaits!