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Research Finds Something Surprising About People Who Read Fiction

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Research Finds Something Surprising About People Who Read Fiction

Whether they believe it or not, every work of fiction a dedicated reader picks up to read in their free time benefits them significantly, at least in comparison to their non-reader friends.

It’s not just a tool to make them smarter or help them do better in school, though. Research has proven over and over again that reading fiction gives people both emotional and physical benefits they never even knew they had.

In case rereading a favorite book series wasn’t already at the top of this week’s to-do list, here are a few more ways that fiction readers benefit from their hobby.

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They are more aware of how others are feeling

When a reader dives into a story, they are automatically agreeing to experience the fictional events right alongside each character. Whether they realize it or not, this forces them to feel each character’s emotions as their own—what psychologists call empathy.

A 2013 study found that fiction readers’ brains are more active in areas that correspond with language and sensation, making them more aware of their surroundings. People who read fiction are much more likely to recognize and understand how a nearby classmate, friend, or family member is feeling, similar to the emotions of a character on a page.

They sleep better

When we think of an avid reader, we often picture someone hiding under a blanket long past lights-out, reading a book by flashlight. Those who read fiction do sometimes sacrifice a full night’s rest for the sake of finishing a good story, but in general, when they do sleep, they do it well.

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Reading relieves stress, and because many experts recommend establishing a stress-reducing routine before bed, ending the day with a book isn’t a bad idea. Reading both exercises and calms the brain. Those who spend large blocks of time reading before falling asleep use that time to clear their minds of the day’s stressors and slowly prepare their brains for the work to be done while their bodies rest overnight.

They may be less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a major contributor to age-related mental decline. The less time someone spends using their brain to solve puzzles and comprehend events—things frequent fiction readers probably do on a daily basis—the more likely they are to suffer the ailments of Alzheimer’s.

Mentally stimulating activities, like reading and writing, over long periods of time have been shown to improve brain function as people age. Therefore, those who spend the majority of their lives caught up in complex, exhilarating storylines are already doing their part to keep their brains in motion as they get older.

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They are more down-to-earth

Someone who spends all his or her time reading isn’t completely lost in a different world away from the present. While it’s enjoyable to be able to take some time away from real life, they’re very well-equipped to handle life’s everyday happenings once they put the novel down.

People who read fiction are fairly kind and intelligent because of their elevated empathy and deeper understanding of people and how they behave. The stories they read teach them how to solve problems, handle conflict, and prepare for the unexpected, since they’ve watched hundreds of different characters overcome their own obstacles time and time again.

Conclusion

Looking at the big picture, people who still read fiction are probably much better off than people who tend to shy away from it.

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With an increased ability and willingness to care for others, better sleep patterns, less risk of debilitating disease, and a deeper sense of reality, fiction readers are setting themselves up to live smarter, healthier, and happier lives. This is as good an excuse as any to reread everything on their bookshelves, starting now.

Featured photo credit: Kamil Porembiński via flickr.com

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