A little more than a quarter of Americans say they haven’t read a book in the past year. But did you know that reading a book, no matter what genre, provides significant benefits to brain function? Not only will it give you a good story to get sucked into, but your brain will be much stronger and healthier for it.

Mental stimulation

Father holding baby while reading book together
Credit: FatCamera / iStockPhoto

This is an obvious one. Reading stimulates your brain. Sitting on the couch watching TV might be easy and enjoyable, but your brain is not working very hard while you’re doing it. The pictures, story, dialogue and everything else has already been created for you. You don’t have to do any work to enjoy a show. With books, though, the story might be written out for you, but the world is yours to create. Your brain has to produce all the images, colors, actions, and characters in addition to processing language, spelling, and grammar simultaneously. That’s hard work!

Improves memory

Older man reading a book while sitting in a park
Credit: Charday Penn / iStockPhoto

Your brain may not be a muscle, but it still needs to be worked out like one. The more you work your muscles, the bigger they get and the more power they have. The same thing goes for your brain. Reading keeps your brain busy and helps it create more synapses. Literally, the more you read and work out your brain, the more capacity it will have for not just memory but all other functions as well.

Studies with elderly Alzheimer’s patients show that people who read more frequently into their old age showed better mental capacity during life and scored higher on memory tests compared to people who weren’t properly stimulated. The most shocking part is that regular readers literally had larger, more connected brains at the time of their deaths despite the degenerative effects of the disease.

Better social skills

Man and woman laying on carpet reading books together
Credit: katleho Seisa / iStockPhoto

Reading provides the unique ability to enter someone else’s brain. You can see exactly what they are thinking and feeling in any given situation. Sometimes a character in a story may not necessarily act the way that you would in the same scenario, but because you are able to be inside the author’s head and see how his or her brain works, you can better understand that there are people out there who think differently than you — and that’s okay!

This is called the theory of mind. It’s a trait that people develop from a young age to help them understand why people act the way they do or even to predict what they are going to do. Like many other developed traits, people’s brains can develop differently, some slower and some more quickly. Reading helps to boost the development of the theory of mind, which means that regular readers are more accepting and understanding of different people. Even in adults, consistent reading helps to boost social skills and provides better tools to handle complex relationships.

Slows mental degeneration

Couple sits on a park bench while reading the newspaper outside
Credit: Nastasic / iStockPhoto

As you might have guessed, reading stimulates many different areas of the brain and can help slow mental degeneration in old age. Have you ever heard the term “use it or lose it”? Well, it also applies to your brain.

Synaptic pruning is one of the ways that your brain keeps itself running at maximum capacity. It slows or stops some of the lesser-used synapses in order to run more efficiently and not waste energy on processes that you don’t use. In other words, if you don’t stimulate your brain for a long time, you won’t have the same abilities in the future. It has even been linked to helping slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.