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It’s not surprising that as the amount of time people spend on activities such as browsing social media and playing online video games increases, the amount of time people spend reading books decreases.
The truth is, Americans between the ages of 20 and 34 spend only an average of 7 minutes reading per day.
However, reading is very important–even from a very early age. Learning to read provides you with the foundation for most of the other knowledge you will gain in life. But its benefits don’t stop in childhood.
If you are one of the many people who don’t make it a point to read on a regular basis, you’re losing out on a lot of perks.
Benefits of Reading Books
In this article, I will address why is reading important and talk about 17 benefits of books, which will hopefully inspire you to pick something up that interests you so you can add reading into your everyday routine.
One of my favorite places to go to forget about stress, work, and everything else going on in my busy schedule is the local library.
Browsing aisle by aisle, I always end up with a heaping load of books that I can’t wait to dig into. Let’s look at some of the reasons why this timeless form of entertainment is so important.
1. Reading Gives Your Brain a Workout
So often you hear people talking about the importance of getting physical exercise to improve the health of our bodies, but what about the most complex organ of all?
Our brains tend to be ignored when it comes to “exercise” until something goes wrong. But preventative maintenance is extremely important when it comes to brain health!
Researchers have found that reading every day can delay cognitive decline during our later years, keeping our brains younger, healthier, and higher-functioning well into our golden years. And, people who read on a regular basis have more complex brains than those who don’t.
Of course we have all heard of the benefits of “brain foods” such as salmon, almonds, and avocados, due to their high content of omega-3 fats, but scientists say that reading is among the most effective ways to keep your brain healthy.
Reading enhances connectivity in the neural pathways, which in turn improves cognitive function. In fact, reading can help you build up reserves in your brain connections, which can come in handy later in life when you start to lose brain cells. This leads to…
2. Reading Improves Memory
Your ability to remember things is among your brain's most important functions.
Your brain stores everything that you have ever learned and experienced, from small details such as your name to more complex skills that you need to know in order to function in the world.
When you read, you activate different parts of your brain than you do when you’re watching television or listening to music, including the parts of your brain that are associated with your vision, language, and learning.
While reading, your brain is tasked with consistently retaining bits and pieces of information about a topic or story. This exercises the area of the brain that controls your memory, so it becomes stronger–similar to exercising a muscle.
Without a properly working memory, people struggle to make it through everyday life, which can be seen in diseases such as Alzheimer's disease.
Because of this, it is critical to regularly engage your mind through activities such as reading. Studies have shown that engaging in the mental stimulation that reading entails can help preserve memory function and cognitive abilities, especially as you age.
3. Reading Reduces Stress
Aside from being one of life's simple pleasures, here’s an interesting fact about reading: Reading for only 6 minutes per day can reduce stress levels by 68%. Reading can even be more effective in reducing stress than common methods such as going for a walk or listening to music.
Furthermore, it doesn’t even really matter what you’re reading. As long as you can become completely engrossed in a book, you can escape the everyday stress that you’re experiencing in your life and step into someone else’s world for a while.
The change of pace that you encounter when your brain transports itself into someone else’s world can be refreshing for people who are stressed out in their own lives.
Experiencing compounding stress in life can be harmful to your overall health, but reading can reduce the impact of stress by helping your body to relax. Once you start to read, your focus will change to the words on the page rather than the sources of your stress.
4. Reading Expands Your Vocabulary
When you come across a word with which you’re unfamiliar as you’re reading a book, you’re likely to look up the meaning in order to contextualize the sentence.
The act of looking up a definition helps your brain retain the new information. Once you’re in the habit of looking up definitions, your vocabulary will slowly begin to broaden.
While you may not notice overnight how much your vocabulary is increasing with as you develop your reading habit, the words that you learn will start to creep into your everyday vocabulary.
Further, the dialogues that you read between characters in books will also strengthen your grasp of the English language. Your ability to form sentences becomes quicker and more cohesive, and you are rarely at a loss for words as you’re exposed to more and more conversations in various contexts.
Once you have a rich vocabulary and command over the language, your communication skills will become better by default.
5. Reading Reduces Symptoms of Depression
Reading can help fight symptoms of depression because the action of reading stimulates the limbic system, which is the part of your brain that is connected to your emotions.
Reading can be extremely helpful for those who may suffer from mild depression or want to overcome anxiety that is not severe enough to need medication.
When you’re reading, your focus moves from the problems in your own life to new concepts and ideas that are presented in a story.
Reading stories can also provide you with feelings of joy that can improve your mood and change your mindset. While reading may not be a permanent fix for depression, it can help ease some of the struggles related to it.
6. Reading Improves Writing Skills
Reading can add to your range of capabilities by improving your writing skills. Writers know the influence and relevance of reading and how it can improve writing abilities and strengthen writing skills.
By seeing how other books are written and set up, you can imitate various styles and enhance your own technique. Studying the works of authors through reading is a tremendous tool that even some of the most celebrated authors use.
Reading allows you to make connections to your own experiences and emotions in order to become a better writer and a better communicator.
No matter what you’re writing, whether it’s a letter, a blog post, a report, or a novel, nothing will be more inspiring than the words of those who have come before you.
7. Reading Enhances Your Imagination
Reading excites your imagination as you’re taken into another world only through descriptive words and your mind is forced to fill in the blanks.
What do the characters look like? What is the atmosphere of the setting? What type of scene is the author trying to depict?
When you start a book, you probably don’t have a clear picture in your head of what the characters look like, but once you’re finished, you have created an entire new world in your mind that was described in the book–whether it is exactly what the author intended or not–you made your own interpretation.
Your imagination is a forceful tool that is used in all areas of your life, including creating your own understanding of the books you read.
In fact, it is your imagination that facilitates your ability to feel empathy for other people. If you have not experienced what someone else is going through, you have to use your imaginative skills to try to relate to them and show empathy.
Having empathy allows you to build social connections by putting yourself in other people’s shoes in order to understand what others are feeling.
Empathetic people are able to appropriately respond to their peers in social situations. Having empathy also helps you regulate your own emotions, which is important because it allows you to manage your feelings, even when you are experiencing stress.
All of this to say that having a strong sense of imagination is important when your sense of logic on a subject is limited.
8. Reading Improves Your Sleep
Reading can help improve your overall sleep pattern and help you achieve a deeper and more peaceful slumber. By setting aside time to read before bed, you can help your body relax and calm down before falling asleep.
As you read, your body is able to begin the transition from working and running around to shutting down for the night. Even if you’re only reading a chapter or two—the sense of peace that you get from reading can help you slip into a deep sleep.
Furthermore, reading before going to sleep helps reduce the amount of time that you’re spending looking at a screen before trying to go to bed, which helps keep your internal clock on a proper schedule.
Exposure to blue light that is emitted from screens (such as your phone or tablet) delays your body’s release of melatonin, which is an essential hormone for falling asleep that is released by your body during the hours before going to bed.
Blue light exposure delays your body’s internal clock and impacts your natural circadian rhythm.
9. Reading Broadens Your Perspective
Reading allows you to see things from other people’s perspectives.
For example, reading about a different culture allows you to understand how that culture is different from yours.
While you may never live according to another culture’s traditions, you can still open yourself up to accepting your differences and learning what life is like in other parts of the world, giving you a more balanced perspective.
Without learning other viewpoints, people tend to have one-dimensional thinking that is built upon what they learned during their formative years of childhood.
However, reading allows you to look at things from the angle of someone else’s experience, therefore helping you realize that your way might not be the “only correct way” of doing something.
As you add depth to your knowledge base, you develop the capacity to make better decisions and life choices. You become increasingly aware of your surroundings and you’re able to live with an open mind.
The more knowledge you have, the better equipped you will be to face any challenge that comes your way.
10. Reading Helps You Learn About Yourself
When you get into a good book, it opens up new dimensions of thinking as you try to relate to the emotions, events, and experiences that the characters have.
This helps you stay captivated by the book and it makes you think about how you might react and feel if you were put in the situations that are portrayed in the story.
This may help you discover a new part of yourself that you had never considered before as you try to problem solve in someone else’s shoes.
Watch the video below to learn about the five proven strategies that will help you get to know yourself better on your journey to personal growth.
11. Reading Offers Inspiration
Even if you’re not reading a self-help book, reading can be a good source of motivation and inspiration.
Reading other people’s stories can restore lost hope and reading a good inspirational book during a low period can alter your way of thinking and give you motivation.
Reading can be inspirational because it leads you to challenge your own thinking. You start to appreciate other people’s opinions when you read and you even start to recognize your cognitive biases, which can possibly promote a change in your behavior moving forward.
12. Reading Improves Your Listening Skills
When you’re reading, how many opportunities do you have to interrupt the writer in order to interject with your own thoughts or personal experiences?
Reading forces you to stop and listen without thinking about what you are going to say next or what your response is going to be. Your only role is to absorb the perspective of the writer or the characters in the book and keep your opinions or personal experiences to yourself.
When you’re reading, you are in a state of full silence because you are directly connected with the words on the page. In this silence, you explore more and investigate deeper. And in this silence, your brain becomes open and accepting.
13. Reading Can Be Humbling
Not only does reading add to your knowledge base, but it also helps you recognize how much you don’t yet know about the world.
Every time you learn something new from a book, you are reminded of how limited your scope of knowledge is. You likely choose books because you know they will add some new bits and pieces of information to your knowledge base, however, this doesn’t mean you’re not smart.
It just shows that you have accepted the fact that you don’t know everything. You can’t open yourself up to learning until you’re humble enough to know that you will always have a lot left to learn.
14. Reading Provides Entertainment
When you read a book by choice, chances are that you picked it for its entertainment value. Readings offers incomparable pleasure, and, compared to other forms of entertainment, it’s inexpensive.
You can get books for free at your local library or buy them at pre-owned bookstores for a fraction of the price of going to a movie.
Also, books are portable, so you can bring them with you wherever you go. If you need something to occupy your time while you’re waiting for the doctor, just take your book out of your bag and you have an instant source of entertainment.
You can read anywhere without bothering people around you, making it a perfect form of entertainment.
15. Reading Improves Your Ability to Focus
In our busy society, our attention is often diverted in so many different directions every day as multitasking is the new normal. However, multitasking leads to a lot of stress and very little productivity.
But when you read, you’re able to focus simply because you have to focus in order to read. Without focusing, you won’t understand what you’re reading.
You have to focus intently on the words in front of you when you’re reading, which is a small exercise that can play a role in improving your overall ability to focus.
Just like with anything else, practicing focusing on something will improve your ability to do it, and reading helps retrain your brain from the chaos of our society to live in the present moment and focus on one thing at a time.
Multitasking is one of the most destructive habits for your focus and productivity. Learn to watch out for these bad habits and know what to do to break them by watching the video below:
16. Reading Can Increase Your Lifespan
One study found that even when other factors are controlled, such as age, race, socioeconomic status, sex, self-reported health, depression, marital staus, and education level, people who read for up to 3.5 hours a week were 17% less likely to die from all causes in a 12 year follow-up period.
Further, people who read for over 3.5 hours a week were 23% less likely to die during that same period of time. On average, those who read books live almost two years longer than those who don’t.
This idea of reading increasing longevity has been further discussed in other studies that have found maintaining social connections is an important component to living a long life. Consider this: people who are retired often lose a lot of their social connections.
However, participating in a book club helps people maintain their social connections and encourages social engagement when people may otherwise be at risk of isolating themselves.
Reading later in life can provide you with a solid support system when it may be needed the most, and an overall better quality of life.
17. Reading Can Treat Common Ailments
It’s true. Bibliotherapy is a thing. Bibliotherapy is the practice of reading books to facilitate patients’ recovery from stress or mental illness.
The idea behind this type of therapy is that people who feel alone in their struggles can relate to others when they read books with characters who are going through something similar to what they’re experiencing.
Some people who have been treated with bibliotherapy report that it was an initial step to recognizing that they needed help. There are hundreds of books that doctors “prescribe” for a wide variety of ailments, from anxiety to grief.
Professionals can get credentials to be bibliotherapists and then go on to work as therapists, lead groups such as grief and loss groups or post-divorce groups, work with at-risk youth, or even work in prisons.
However, with just a little research, you can find some books that can be appropriate and helpful for your individual needs. Doing so will help you find someone that you can relate to, even if it’s simply on paper.
Final Thoughts on the Benefits of Reading
Reading is both entertaining and beneficial to your overall well being.
Books can be used as a tool toward developing a healthy lifestyle, and hopefully with these 17 benefits of books, you will be motivated to go out and find one that interests you.
Whatever you choose to read, whether it’s sci-fi, self-help books, or mystery novels, you can count on the variety of benefits that reading offers to your mind and your body.
If you're ready to dive in and need book ideas, be sure to check out our extensive list of recommended books: 250+ Best Self Help Books (or How to Never Run Out of Good Things to Read)
Connie Mathers is a professional editor and freelance writer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her daughter and two dogs, running, or working at her full-time job as a social worker in Richmond, VA.