Do you remember the last time you read a book? Was it one or two books for a class last year or has even more time passed since your most recent encounter with a novel? If so, your daily reading habits likely revolve around social media posts, news updates and the occasional article online.
If you’re someone who doesn’t take the time to read a book every now and then, you’re not alone. However, there are many benefits to taking up the hobby, and as the benefits only increase with consistency, you may want to look into changing your reading habits.
You no longer need to view picking up a book as a chore or just a matter of entertainment. Beyond reading for class, research shows that consistent reading can improve your short-term and long-term mental and physical health.
Reading can seriously change your mind and body for the better. You won’t regret making the effort to read more.
According to the National Institute on Aging, reading books and long-form writing such as magazines can help keep your mind engaged with your body as you age. Reading consistently on a daily or weekly basis can improve your brain connectivity over time.
The act can also help prevent cognitive decline in later stages of life. Although research hasn’t proven conclusively that reading books prevents diseases such as Alzheimer’s, studies from Oxford University found that seniors who read and solve math problems every day maintain and improve their cognitive functioning. Further research suggests that people who keep their brains active by reading are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who spend their leisure time participating in less stimulating activities.
Additionally, a national Health and Retirement study showed that compared to non-book readers, “book readers had a 4-month survival advantage at the point of 80% survival.” The book readers in the study also experienced a 20% reduction in their risk of mortality over the 12 years of follow-up appointments compared to non-readers. Plus, the study concluded that “these findings suggest the benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read them.”
Other health benefits, according to Healthline, include an increase in a person’s vocabulary and comprehension, reduced levels of stress and lower blood pressure.
Focus and Concentration
In this day and age, our attention is constantly pulled between a million different directions and multi-tasking is bound to happen. Would you try to incorporate reading into your busy schedule if you learned it could help improve your overall focus and increase your productivity?
Reading consistently can help condition your brain to stay focused when you need it most. When you read — especially if your book includes physical pages — all of your attention is directed to the story. Your mind is shielded from the outside world, which allows you to concentrate on the book’s details.
However, this level of concentration isn’t just good for leisurely reading. Reading for as little as 15-20 minutes before you start your daily routine can improve your focus throughout the rest of the day. Alternatively, creating a ritual of reading before bed signals to your body that it’s time to sleep soon, as found through research from the Mayo Clinic. In this way, reading regularly before bed can help your brain wind down for the night by eliminating your winding thoughts.
While regular reading can help increase your vocabulary and general knowledge, it can also increase your brain activity by training it to concentrate. According to an article from Real Simple about the benefits of reading physical, paper books, “Just like going for a jog exercises your cardiovascular system, reading regularly improves memory function by giving your brain a good workout.” Developing a habit of regularly reading paper books can even help slow the process of cognitive decline by around 32% according to research from Neurology and The Huffington Post.
Just remember, reading a paper book helps you relax more than scrolling through a website on your phone before bed. Reading from a screen, such as an e-reader or tablet, can keep you awake longer and mess with your sleeping pattern.
If the previous health benefits couldn’t convince you to develop a consistent reading habit, you’ll be happy to know that reading for pleasure can not only give you a new way to consume entertainment, but it can contribute to your learning satisfaction as well.
In a study published in Reading and Writing, Sandra Martin-Chang and her colleagues found significant differences between students who read for pleasure outside of class and those who only read books for their school assignments.
Martin-Chang’s research involved a survey of 200 university undergraduates, readers and non-readers, during which Martin-Chang and her colleagues asked them questions about their reading interests, how often they read for fun and what experiences shaped their current attitudes about reading.
“There was a powerful link between reading for fun and stronger language skills, but students who disliked reading frequently attributed their negative outlook to experiences they had in classrooms,” said an Edutopia article on the study. “Too much emphasis on analyzing the compositional nuts and bolts of texts and reading merely to absorb information came at a psychological cost, as students disengaged from voluntary reading.”
This “disengagement” in voluntary reading happens sometime around a student’s high school or even middle school experience, according to Martin-Chang. While children in elementary school tend to read picture books with the help of parents and teachers as they practice their reading skills, by their teen years, the purpose of reading changes. In high school and beyond, students are expected to read a larger number of challenging and information-heavy novels, which too often evolves into a distaste for reading altogether.
“Focusing primarily on analyzing texts and gathering information — a shift that tends to occur in middle and high school — can send the signal that reading is merely a utilitarian undertaking,” noted Edutopia, “robbing it of its powerful connection to human imagination, passion, and creativity, making it a lot less desirable.”
Because of this gradual disconnect between imagination and positive cognitive behavior toward learning, consistent reading for pleasure can help you develop a positive relationship with reading. You don’t even have to give up scrolling on your phone for good — devoting just 15 minutes of your time to focused reading will do the trick. The earlier you start this reading habit, the better. Your mind will thank you for it later in life.
Reading consistently can greatly improve your cognitive development by allowing you to find joy in thinking creatively. If this habit isn’t already a part of your routine, adding it in will not only provide you with one more form of entertainment, but it will also give you a lifetime of valuable health benefits you can enjoy while reading as well.