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Last Updated on June 9, 2020 by Paula Dunbar

I’m betting you know reading is good for the brain. But how does reading help the brain? And what exactly does it do for the brain? Those are the things we’ll talk about today.

The first known novel was written in the 11th century by a Japanese woman, Murasaki Shikibu. It was the beginning of a beautiful thing. Ms. Shikibu’s book, The Tale of Genji, was a 54-chapter romantic novel, the first known novel ever written.

Now, we love reading (and maybe writing) in all its forms. I hope you do because it has a lot of benefits beyond just pleasure. There are even physical health benefits of reading.

I love to get caught up in a story of mystery and suspense. I read every Nancy Drew book in my younger days. I also loved Agatha Christie. Now I like John Grisham and David Baldacci novels. Who is your favorite author? What do you enjoy reading? 

I found a couple of articles detailing the ways reading helps our brains in Healthline (Joy Stanborough, 2019) and OEDb (Open Education Database) websites and am happy to share with you.

Just Like Being There

how does reading help the brainWe create images in our brains as we read, constructing the scenes as the author describes them. Apparently, our brains can’t tell the difference between reading it and experiencing it. So it’s almost like we’re really experiencing it. The same neurological regions are stimulated when reading as if we’ve experienced it.

And researchers say audio books engage our brains in much the same way. Even hearing stories or gossip engages our brains and lights up the experiential parts of our brains.

Reading Strengthens the Brain

Researchers have confirmed with MRI scans that reading does indeed increase the connections in the brain. A 2013 study confirmed that with a group all reading the same novel, “Pompei”, their brain activity increased, even after the reading period ended. And as tension mounted in the story, more areas of the brain lit up, especially in the somatosensory cortex, a region that responds to physical sensations like movement and pain (Joy, 2019).

And another study by Carnegie Mellon showed that white matter in the language area of the brain actually increased with people who were considered ‘poor readers’ as they were tasked to read every day. Over the six month study, they showed that brain structure can be improved by reading something daily.

Related Article: Does Your Brain Grow?

Reading Makes Us More Empathetic

As we slip into a great story and become part of the characters’ lives, we start to feel what it’s like to be them. We get a glimpse into what they are thinking and feeling. This carries over into our real life. We start to understand others point of view a little better. And maybe even the thought process that got them where they are, reacting as they do. And maybe understand ourselves a little better as well.

The Brain Can Adapt to Ebooks in 7 Days

how does reading help the brainEven if you’re used to paper books, your brain can quickly adapt to the newer digital version of books. Some have said that ebooks don’t give us the spatial cues for where we are in the book.

Maybe so, but now ebook readers have page numbers and/or percentage of the book read, so you have an idea where you are in the story.

I, for one, really enjoy ebooks. But I like to have some paper books around, especially for the purposes of this blog, for my references. It seems it’s good for our brains to be stimulated in many forms of books and magazines. 

Consolation from imaginary things is not an imaginary consolation.

Sir Roger Scruton

British Philosopher

Reading Helps with Depression

Books can help lessen the feelings of isolation and feeling estranged from others for people with depression. Plus you can escape from your world for a bit and experience other people’s lives. And reading nonfiction aids in learning how to deal with depression or other things.

Increases Attention Span

how does reading help the brainStory stucture teaches us that stories have a beginning, middle and end, which helps us to think about things as a sequence of events. We always know where we are in a book.

It is said that parents who read to infants start teaching them this story structure early which helps increase their attention span for later learning.

Alternative Activity to Binge-Watching

It’s great to have most TV shows available to watch all the way from beginning to end of a series. But only doing that for intellectual stimulation, especially for children, is actually harmful to the brain.

A little goes a long way. Break it up now and then with reading. It will give you all the benefits described here plus keep your brain active.

Live Longer

A large study of 3,635 people participating in a Health and Retirement Study provided information on their reading habits. They were followed up with after 12 years and researchers found that the book readers lived longer. They had a 20% reduction in mortality rate over the non readers. How’s that for interesting? So get that library card out and have at it.

My local library also has ebooks available for checking out. See if yours does too. It feels a lot safer to read ebooks from the library right now. But purchasing paper books for delivery should be quite safe too.

Where We Are Now

So here’s what we’ve learned:

  • Reading about an experience is close to the same as actually experiencing it.
  • Reading strengthens the brain and increases connections and white matter.
  • Reading makes us more empathic.
  • The brain can adapt to ebooks in 7 days.
  • Reading helps with depression.
  • Helps attention span
  • Alternative good activity to binge-watching
  • Live longer!

I hope this encourages you to read more, especially while we have more time generally. It’s a great way to expand your horizons, even if you like reading fiction. I know I do. I’ll include some links to a few bookstores I like. Good deals and the ebooks.com store lets you download to your choice of reading device. Find your next good read today!


Thank you for reading today. If you have any questions or comments, please share in the Comments section below. Tell me what you like reading!


Bavishi A, Slade M, Levy B. THE SURVIVAL ADVANTAGE OF READING BOOKS. Innov Aging. 2017;1(Suppl 1):477. Published 2017 Jun 30. doi:10.1093/geroni/igx004.1696

Joy, R. (2019). Benefits of Reading Books: How It Can Positively Affect Your Life. Retrieved June 7, 2020 from https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-reading-books

OEDb (n.d.). Your Brain on Books: 10 Things That Happen to Our Minds When We Read. Retrieved June 7, 2020 from https://oedb.org/ilibrarian/your-brain-on-books-10-things-that-happen-to-our-minds-when-we-read/