We have so many choices when it comes to how we spend our time. Why should we read when there are movies, TV shows, video games, and more? Reading both fiction and non-fiction comes with a wide range of benefits. Here are ten reasons why reading is important:
#1. It improves your creativity and imagination
If you ever feel stuck creatively, reading can stretch those muscles. When you read a book, especially fiction, it stimulates your imagination. Your mind paints a picture of what you’re reading, so you become an active participant in the activity. At least one study supports this benefit. 100 people read either a fictional story or a nonfiction essay, and then completed a questionnaire. The fiction readers were more creative in their answers than the essay readers.
#2. It helps you learn
To grow as a person, you always want to stay curious and keep learning. There will always be things you don’t know, and reading can bridge the gaps and open up new worlds. In the 1990’s, Keith Stanovich and his colleagues performed reading studies to identify the link between reading, cognitive skills, and factual knowledge. According to Stanovich, the results showed that “avid readers” had 50% more fact-based knowledge than people who didn’t read much.
#3. It increases your vocabulary
In those same studies by Stanovich, he also discovered that avid readers have a 50% larger vocabulary. This is most likely because the more you read, the more unfamiliar words you come across. You can learn the meanings either through context or looking them up, and over time, your vocabulary gets bigger and bigger. The process of learning new words is good for your brain.
#4. It improves memory
Research shows that reading, even if it’s just a little bit every day, can help improve your memory. This is because reading stimulates the part of the brain responsible for attention and memory. As you read through a text, you need to remember what’s happened before in order to follow the narrative or themes the writer is addressing. You may not even be aware that your mind is remembering things, but the process exercises and stretches the brain.
#5. It increases your concentration and attention span
Reading takes more concentration than a passive activity, like watching TV. To follow where a writer is going, you need to pay close attention to the words you’re reading and their meaning. This action stimulates the brain, improving your ability to stay focused. People who can sit and read for hours have excellent attention spans, which can be harnessed for other tasks that require concentration.
#6. It improves your writing skills
If you are interested in the craft of writing at all, you know that some of the best authors recommend lots of reading. The more you read, the more familiar you become with structure, character development, and writing styles. This applies to both fiction and nonfiction writing. Even if you don’t need to write much in your daily life, reading prepares you for any time when you might need to, whether it’s a Christmas letter, email, personal blog, or journal entry.
#7. It reduces stress
Stress is a common problem these days and there are many ways to deal with it. Reading is one of the best. A 2009 study conducted by Mindlab International at the University of Sussex discovered that after people read quietly for just six minutes, their heart rates slowed down and they had less muscle tension. Their stress levels actually reduced by an impressive 68%, making reading more effective than talking a walk or listening to music. By focusing their minds on what they were reading, people could distance and distract themselves from anxious thoughts and feelings.
#8. It could extend your life
Reading can actually help you live longer. In a 12-year study performed by Yale University, researchers monitored 3600 adults over 50-years old. Those who read books for at least 30 minutes a day lived around 2 years longer than those who read newspapers or magazines. While we can’t say that reading ensures a longer life, this study does show a connection. It could be that reading and its ability to improve cognitive functions keeps neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s at bay.
#9. It boosts your empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand and sympathize with other people, even when we don’t agree with them on something. While some people possess lots of natural empathy, most of us could use a bit more. Reading can help. In 2013, different members of a group read different genres such as literary fiction, popular, fiction, and nonfiction. A control group read nothing. Throughout the experiment, researchers learned that people who read literary fiction were better at identifying facial expressions and guessing how the characters in their books would act. This is because in literary fiction, characters tend to be complex. Readers must pay closer attention and exercise empathy in order to understand them. Those skills translate into the real world.
#10. It expands your understanding of the world
Speaking of the real world, reading both fiction and nonfiction can change your perspectives on things. How? Books are like windows. By looking through them, you can see different views on humanity, current events, history, culture, and more. If you intentionally seek out voices and authors who are very different from you, your understanding expands even more.