Like I suspect many of us, I love the idea of reading more, but I can struggle to make the time for it.
It very easily falls down a long list of ‘to-do’s’.
But I’ve just gotten back into the habit of daily reading, and I’d forgotten how joyful it truly is.
It feels strangely luxurious for such a humble pursuit. Perhaps because it provides unadulterated “me time”.
But the benefits of reading certainly don’t stop there — far from it.
Reading has many hidden blessings that we are often unaware of.
This article will share those with you, providing 10 reasons why we should aim to read every day.
So let’s take a look!
1) It helps you hone your concentration skills
Modern life provides so much instant entertainment. We are constantly stimulated.
Think about it:
When your friend goes to the bathroom do you automatically pull out your phone rather than sit in silence waiting for their return?
If you’re anything like most of us, the answer is probably yes.
The problem is that as wonderful as technological advances are, it can come at a cost to our attention span.
In fact, research has found that all this technology may well be altering our cognitive capacities in subtle but powerful ways.
Understandably, we are more easily distracted in our hightech world than previous generations were. This then impacts our concentration levels and our attention span.
To a certain extent, you could say we’re cultivating a bit of a goldfish brain. But reading can help to counteract this.
Reading demands our focus.
We have to put all our concentration onto the page and words in front of us. It’s the only way we can follow and understand the content being presented to us.
This undivided attention we place on reading helps us to hone our concentration skills. And in the process tame our thoughts, which can feel naturally prone to wandering.
2) It promotes better sleep
Oddly enough, how effective reading is at promoting sleep is one of my biggest obstacles.
That’s because when I try to read before bed, it’s never very long before I’ve totally zonked out.
Maybe you can relate?
The words become little hynotizing spells that make my eyes feel heavy.
According to cognitive neuroscientist Dr Christian Jarrett this is pretty common and makes total sense:
“Typically when we’re reading, we do it in a comfortable position – sitting or lying down – in a quiet place, and often at the end of the day or after more energetic activities, all of which contributes to a state of relaxation and sleepiness.”
And that state of relaxation as opposed to stimulation is what makes it a great bedtime ally.
At the risk of sounding like I’m technology bashing again, being on gadgets before bedtime has shown to be problematic.
As explained by SCL Health:
“The blue light emitted by your cell phone screen restrains the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep-wake cycle (aka circadian rhythm). This makes it even more difficult to fall asleep and wake up the next day.”
3) It’s a workout for the brain
We know by now that our minds need to workout, just as much as our bodies do, in order to stay fit and healthy.
Reading is like a power session at the gym for the brain.
Research has shown how brain connectivity increases not only during a reading session, but for days afterward.
One study used MRI scanners to take a look at readers’ brains as they read a novel.
They found that the more tension built in the story, the more areas of their brain lit up with activity.
Scientists know that reading uses a complexity of signals and circuits in our brain, which get stronger and more sophisticated the more we read.
4) It’s a great stress buster
Stress is a real problem that a lot of us face on a daily basis.
In fact, research has found that it’s something over a third of people worldwide deal with.
Reading can come to the rescue.
Researchers in one study done back in 2009 looked at the impact of humor, yoga and reading on stress levels of students doing a very demanding course.
They found just 30 minutes of reading was enough to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and reduce feelings of psychological distress.
Reading was equally as successful for stress busting as yoga and humor.
Meanwhile, another 2009 study from the consultancy Mindlab International at the University of Sussex found reading reduced stress levels by a whopping 68 percent.
5) It makes you more empathetic
Choosing to read everyday may not only benefit you, it could even benefit those around you.
That’s because there’s evidence that it builds empathy.
Research has found that reading fiction makes us better at understanding and relating to the feelings and thoughts of other people.
Probably as we get to grips with the inner lives of characters, and start to see the world through their eyes.
It may not happen overnight. But scientists argue that fiction lovers who read often develop better so-called “theory of mind”.
This is essentially our capacity to understand other people by ascribing mental states to them.
6) It keeps you sharp and reduces cognitive decline as we age
Given the clear benefits of reading for the brain that we’ve already noted, this next one comes as no surprise.
Reading is not only vital when we’re young, it’s equally important as we age.
So much so that the National Institute on Aging recommends we use books, magazines and articles as tools to help keep the mind active.
More research still needs to be done to tease out conclusive proof, but it’s believed reading may even be able to keep cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s at bay.
For example, a 2013 study by Rush University Medical Centre concluded that people who regularly stimulate the brain with activities were less likely to develop brain lesions and plaque build-ups.
And both these things are linked to dementia.
7) It not only entertains, it teaches too
Let’s be honest, reading probably isn’t quite as easy as turning on Netflix and passively binge watching your fave show.
In some ways, reading takes effort.
We must actively engage in the process (which is why it has so many health benefits).
Yet, at its heart we usually read for the sheer fun of it, because it’s entertaining and interesting.
But as well as that, it’s educational too.
We may not always be aware that we’re learning whilst we read. But silently behind the scenes, we are.
For starters we are improving our vocabulary as we encounter new words within a text.
Researchers found that kids who read from an early age go on to have large vocabularies.
It might not sound such a big deal, but studies have shown that good vocabulary improves your general communication — including listening, speaking, reading and writing.
All of which can be critical to our success in life.
Reading can also be a great way of enhancing your general knowledge.
Throughout history, reading has always been one of our strongest resources for learning.
8) It improves your memory
No joke, I almost forgot to include this one in the list. Which just goes to show that I clearly need to read more.
If you too ever feel slightly scatterbrained, then you’ll be interested to hear that reading has memory boosting abilities.
Part of this is down to the general brain training strengths of reading, which in turn strengthens memory.
Reading is ultimately more neurobiologically demanding for us than processing images or speech.
All this extra hard work improves your memory by stimulating different parts of your brain. This helps to create new and better connections.
9) It makes you a better role model
This one may well be of particular interest to all the parents out there.
It’s official, if you want to set a good example, you should read more.
That way we’re more likely to pass on all these benefits of reading on to those we care about.
Because reading it seems is somewhat contagious.
One report found that reading out loud to kids during their early school years inspires them to become regular readers too.
If you’re one of the 75% of parents who say they wish their children would read more for fun, then it’s always a good idea to lead by example.
10) It could even help you to live longer
By now, we probably don’t need much more convincing as to why we should strive to read every day.
But this last one will surely seal the deal.
Because it just might make you live longer.
Time is precious, which is why we can struggle to make the time to read.
But perhaps all that time spent reading is simultaneously buying us time in the future.
One study looking at long-term health and retirement found that people who read books lived on average around 2 years longer.
What’s more, if you read more than three and a half hours per week, your chance of living longer jumps by a substantial 23% compared to non-readers.