When I was in high school I was in a book club, but I did not know it. My friends and I would read romance novels and “chick lit” from authors of color, then have fervent discussions during lunch that usually began with: “Girl, did you read…” or “Girl, I can’t believe…” We did all of that just to have fun. What we did not realize was that our informal book club was improving our health.
According to separate social relationship studies by physician Stewart Wolf and the scientific journal PLOS Medicine their findings suggest that spending time with close friends can:
- Be relaxing and lower blood pressure
- Reduce stress
- Help build support systems
- Increase the brain’s production of its “happy” chemical, serotonin
- Stimulate the growth of new brain cells
- Reduces the rate of memory loss
- Boost your immune system
- Bring more FUN to your life
The studies also suggest that the lack of close social relationships can negatively impact your health the same way smoking, obesity and the lack of exercise does.
Add reading to the mix and there are even more health benefits. For instance:
- In 2001, USA Today reported on studies that suggested that stimulating mental activities, such as reading, exercise the brain and might lead to a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Sleep experts recommend reading as a way to calm your mind and body before bedtime.
- In January 2013, PLOS ONE, a scientific peer review journal, published a study that reported reading fiction might increase your empathy. In other words, you can become so “emotionally transported” by a story you can actually empathize with the characters and/or the emotions within the story — leading to increased empathy for others in your own life.
So what does this all mean? Spending time with friends and getting wrapped up in a good book is aerobic exercise for the brain and medicine for the heart and soul. So go ahead — join a book club or start one of your own. It’s good for you!