In our digital age, it’s all too easy to skim social media feeds, watch viral cat videos, glance at the day’s headlines, and then pass a whole day without actually sitting down and reading something substantial. If this sounds like you, you could be missing out - regular reading confers substantial benefits for the mind and your well-being.
Here are some of the reasons why you should pick up a book or two from your local bookstore or load up your eBook reader with some new titles, and start reading more today.
Stress reduction and overall well-being
Most of us are too busy throughout the day to stop and take a few minutes to ourselves, much less take 30 minutes or an hour of quiet time to just be. However reading can help us remedy the constant engagement that’s common in the modern lifestyle. Picking up a book can help you disengage your brain, rest your cognitive capabilities, and support you in getting back to your ‘peak brain’.
Reading allows your brain to enter a trance-like state that’s like meditation, and with this state comes intense relaxation and calm. Studies show people who read regularly experience lower stress levels, have better self-esteem, and suffer less cases of depression than those who don’t read.
It has even been shown that reading is the best way to reduce stress, and is superior to listening to music or taking a walk. Just six minutes of reading can lead to a 68% reduction in muscle tension and a healthy slowing of the heart rate.
Improve your memory and analytical skills
People – across all of life’s stages – who read consistently demonstrate significantly greater memory and mental capabilities. People who read consistently tend to haveslower memory decline later in life, compared to those who don’t read, experiencing around 32% lower rate of mental decline. It has also been suggested that those who read more show less signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
Expand your vocabulary
Another reason to read more is to grow your vocabulary and boost the amount of words you use and are familiar with. Studies have shown that those who read more have more brain activity in the area associated with understanding language, compared to those who don’t read. Other studies have shown that those who read fiction are more likely to have a bigger vocabulary.
Develop better public speaking skills
Since reading has such a positive impact on language and vocabulary, it’s no surprise that there’s a strong link between public speaking abilities and reading. As you improve your memory and analytic skills, learn to de-stress, and grow your vocabulary, it could be that you will also naturally become a more skilled public speaker.
Become more proficient at understanding others’ state of mind
If the practical benefits on communication and language are not enough to convince you of the benefits of reading, how about the possibility of reading making you a more open minded and empathetic person? Those who read literary fiction have been linked with having stronger empathy for others, or what’s otherwise known as ‘theory of mind’.
Reading fiction transports you into the shoes of other people, and allows you to imagine different realities and complications. As you read, you develop a theory of mind which gives you a better understanding of others and their perspectives. Studies have shownthat the process of imagining stories generates more activity in the areas of the brain that are associated with understanding others and learning new perspectives.
Gain knowledge and ideas
Whether you read fiction or nonfiction, you expose yourself to new information, ideas, and concepts. It’s possible that with these concepts you are able to link stronger associations in day-to-day life, see problems from new perspectives, and solve these problems more effectively. Having more knowledge and ideas is also a good confidence booster, enabling you to tackle life’s challenges more effectively.
Indulging in fiction’s ambiguities could make you more creative as a person. In recent studies, this ability has been measured by looking at a person's need for certainty and stability. One study found that those who read fiction had less need for ‘cognitive closure’ than those who read nonfiction. It’s possible that this reduced need for certainty could encourage creativity in some people.
Improve writing skills
Whether you read fiction, nonfiction, or both, your enthusiasm for reading has a positive effect on your writing skills, and your communication skills in general. With a stronger vocabulary and more exposure to cadence, different writing styles, and ways of expression, you can become more confident in expressing yourself in written and spoken form.
Stronger relationship skills
Along with an improved ability to empathise (or to form theories of mind), your one-book-a-week reading habit could be helping you develop better relationship skills. Fiction exposes you to change, complexity, varying emotional states and uncertainty - in a way, it’s a reality simulator for your mind. Social situations and relationships are subtle and often complex, usually requiring ongoing negotiation. If you read a lot you tend to be more exposed to these types of complex problems, and may be better at identifying and dealing with them in your everyday life.
Better sleep quality
Getting a better night's sleep could be achieved by reading more. Due to its relaxation benefits, reading could help you improve your sleeping habits and patterns. Readers tend to experience better quality of sleep, and this could be linked to their ability to focus better, wind down, and relax.
Tolerance and inclusivity
As mentioned above, reading boosts your empathetic powers, and therefore it could also make you more tolerant and inclusive as a person. One study specifically researching the Harry Potter series found that JK Rowling’s fictional work could be used as a tool to improve attitudes towards groups that are stigmatised in society. In the study, students were read passages from the book about discrimination, and the researchers found that after the reading students had changed attitudes about certain minority groups.