You may have not given it much thought as you cozy up with your favourite book but reading does much more than giving you some entertainment for a few hours. The benefits of reading books are not only mental in nature but physical as well. In fact, the benefits of reading books can extend to your social ties and relationships.
A book is a workout for your brain because reading benefits existing neural networks within the brain and creates new ones as well. A good book can help you stave off stress and lead to better sleep.
The benefits of reading books extend to children and adults alike, helping in the development of kid’s brains while preventing dementia in the older population.
How reading benefits your general health and well-being
Reading has been shown to drastically reduce stress levels. If you can make it a part of your daily night-time routine, it can improve the quality of your sleep.
You may want to stick to a book rather than using your phone or an e-reader though because the benefits of reading books far outweigh all other modern reading methods. Using electronic devices before you hit the sack has been shown to disrupt your circadian rhythms, also known as your body clock. This affects your sleep patterns and the quality and quantity of your sleep.
Those with mental health conditions also stand to gain from the calming benefits of reading books. The elderly will see immense reading benefits if they are regular because it lowers their risk of mental health diseases.
Some of the more indirect (but still valuable) benefits of reading books are:
- Allows you to gain perspective by letting you see the world through the eyes of others
- Helps you learn about other people, situations and locations
- Increases your knowledge and emotional responsivity, making you a more interesting individual to engage with
- Elevates your willpower and inspires you to work towards success (if you read books that deal with such topics)
How reading benefits your intellect
The benefits of reading books are quite significant when it comes to intellectual development. Some of the biggest benefits are:
It boosts your intelligence and knowledge: Whether you read fiction or non-fiction, one of the biggest benefits of reading books is that it enhances your level of intelligence and general knowledge. The more you read, the more you learn. This increased amount of information also improves your confidence which has other positive effects.
Your vocabulary gets better: It’s easy to see how the benefits of reading books apply to your vocabulary. As you read, your vocabulary continues to grow. This will help you to piece together your ideas more effectively and improves your verbal and written communication. Good communication skills are of paramount importance in every sphere of your life; from the personal to the professional.
You develop many important skills: Reading benefits your sense of compassion and your analytical skills. In addition to communicating better, you’ll be able to understand the world around you better and keep up with the world. Your critical thinking and problem-solving abilities improve and you’ll learn how to handle diverse situations.
Your writing improves: The benefits of reading books are most evident when it comes to your writing skills. Improved writing skills allow you to choose the right words to express yourself and influence others.
The science behind why reading benefits you so much
Science has wondered for a long time about the benefits of reading books on the human brain. When a literate human reads a word, it is processed by the eyes and travels as a nerve impulse to the back of the brain where the occipital lobe is located.
It is analysed by the fusiform gyrus, a part of the brain that is only developed in literate people. A word is not much more than a symbol, but the brain processes it and assigns a value to it.
Whether you read for fun or to learn something, your brain begins to work as soon as you start to read. Your brain processes the story, the characters, the plots and the writing, firing up your memory and stimulating your recall ability.
If a book or a paragraph is complex, it triggers higher brain activity in the language and memory centres of the brain. Apart from your reading experience, your brain is also pulling up your own memories and connecting them to what you read. For example: If you read a poem about mothers, you’ll find yourself thinking of your own mother.
The benefits of reading books are apparent long after you’re done with the book. In a study, the subjects were asked to read a book at night before they went to sleep. When their brain activity was monitored, the boost from that short reading session was found to last for days afterwards. This form of post-reading brain activity has been compared to muscle memory and is particularly evident in the left side of the brain. This is where the language centre of the brain is housed.
Science has also found that the way you read changes the benefits of reading books. The mind reacts in different ways to different types of reading focus. When you read, the blood flows to parts of your brain that are stimulated. In a study at Stanford, researchers found that when you read with focus like you would before a test, the blood flow increased to different parts in the brain than when you read for leisure.
How reading benefits your social ties
One of the biggest benefits of reading books on your social relationships has to do with the development of empathy. Empathy is a highly valued social skill that evolves as you read books. You are able to learn a lot about other people as you read the voices and experiences of different characters (in fiction) and real people (in non-fiction).
By absorbing how these characters or people develop and why they act in a certain way, you open your mind to other worlds and situations. This allows you to come to terms with situations and people in your life. One of the reading benefits is that it allows you to peer inside the minds of people, simultaneously enhancing your level of emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is one of the greatest benefits of reading books and it can seep into other aspects of your life. You’ll find that you forge stronger relationships with others because you understand them on a better level. Having strong social ties is beneficial for your mental and physical health and has been found to lead to a longer and happier life.
How reading benefits your stress management tools
When you are read a book, you escape from your world of stress triggers and daily pressures into a world created by the author.
When it comes to managing stress, the benefits of reading books are higher if you read before bedtime. Reading calms your brain and allows you to relax, preparing you for a good night of sleep. This study done by Sussex University highlights how reading a book can slash stress levels by a whopping 68%.
Conversely using a digital device with notifications pinging on it is known to increase your general levels of anxiety and keep you awake. With poor sleep quality, you will find that your stress levels are higher the next day too.
How reading benefits your memory, concentration and focus
Reading a book requires you focus all your attention on one thing. As you read, your memory works hard to remember all that has transpired in the story. Each memory creates new synapses within your brain and strengthens the existing ones.
You could think of it like a brain workout. When you read, you train your short term memory just like lifting weights trains your muscles. Reading triggers an increased blood flow to your brain just like a run boosts the circulation in your body.
Reading allows you to keep your brain active, fit and mentally charged. It also boosts your imagination and sparks your creativity as it introduces you to new worlds and characters. The mental stimulation you receive from books is great for your mental health and has also been found to ward off degenerative brain conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
How reading benefits children
It goes without saying that literacy lays a stable base for a successful life. The benefits of reading books is most apparent if you read with your child during their early years of development. There is the highest potential for development of their language and literacy skills during this period.
No matter how bad your rendition of piggy voices or elfin songs, don’t worry. Reading to your child in any way can help them develop a better vocabulary and speech patterns, triggers their imagination, and gives them skills like visualization and analysis.
A number of studies have highlighted how the number of books in your home is directly proportional to the academic results of your child. On an average, children with a higher number of books at home tend to score higher in math, science, English and other subjects.
The need for reading becomes even more vital when you consider that a low grade in English has been linked to lower or reducing school attendance over the years. Further, students with satisfactory or higher marks in English, especially in the higher grades, are far more likely to complete their entire education.
How to get your kids to read
Most parents confessed that they’d love to wean their kids off everything that involved screen time. They also admitted that they would like their kids to read for fun, so that they could start seeing the benefits of reading books over time.
The results of a survey of kids in Australia has highlighted how over 60% of the kids agreed they like reading books but only a third of them stuck to the habit. It is extremely difficult for children to resist the attraction of screens and turn to books, so how do you help your child read?
The first steps are the hardest
Change begins with you
Children are far more likely to stick to a habit if it is developed from a young age. It is vital that you inculcate a love for reading early on. But because kids learn from example, it’s up to you as a parent to lead the way. If your kids notice you reading and enjoying books, it will pique their curiosity and they will be far more likely to indulge in reading in their free time. If you can’t read on your own, make a ritual of reading to your child together before bedtime or on weekends.
If you can’t spend time reading with your child, make it easy for them to access books. A child who has never picked up a book before may suddenly begin reading if they find a circus-themed book or a space-themed book. This is why it’s great to allow kids to browse. If you have a big collection of books, let them spend some quiet time looking for something to read. If you don’t have many books at home, take them on library trips regularly and let them pick out something they would like to read.
Get them to think about books
You can highlight to your children how reading is enjoyable by having them introspect about the stories and topics that they have in their books. Children should be encouraged to give reviews of their favourite books and talk to their friends about books they like. Ask your child questions about the stories or characters they responded to, so that it fires up their imagination and gets them to ruminate about all that they have read.
Let them choose
No habit can be developed through force or imposition. By letting your kids pick the books that catch their interest, you’re motivating them to read instead of instructing them to read.
You’ll also be surprised by the level of complexity that children can handle. Avoid choosing books based only on age or grade and let them choose what they are interested in.
The best way to get your kids motivated enough to make reading a habit is by introducing them to many genres. Maybe they would like humour or poetry instead of fiction. Maybe they would like animal stories instead of stories with human characters. Once they understand and you know the genres that catch their fantasy, you can help them find the books that would most excite them and watch them improve from the benefits of reading books.
How can a book replace the attractions of a colourful, moving screen?
One of the biggest concerns for any parent is that a screen is so much more exciting than a book. A screen has sounds and music and colours that grip a child (or an adult) and make it impossible for them to look away.
To get your child to focus on a book may be harder now than it has ever been, but it’s not impossible.
- For younger children, have them sit close to you so that they can see your face and the book that you read.
- Allow kids to pick the books they like no matter how young they are. If they ask for it, read it aloud even if this means reading it every night.
- Make reading fun by making funny sounds and noises to engage their minds and senses, and ask them to participate by pointing out things on the page, repeating words or phrases, and making up their own sounds.
- Turn off all electronic distractions when you’re reading. Switch off the TV and put your phone on silent. Look for a quiet place to read so that you can have your child’s complete attention.
- Make reading a habit by forming a routine. Set up a comfortable reading spot so that you and your child are both comfortable. Try to stick to the routine so your child associates the time with reading.
- If you have more than one child in your house, encourage the older children to share reading time with the younger ones or make it a family activity. Ensure equal participation, ask questions and encourage answers so that children develop an interest in reading.
Screen time is an important obstacle in your attempt to get your kids to read, but you have find creative ways to balance both. A complete ban on screen time may turn kids against books, so do instead allow screen time as an activity that is restricted to certain times of the day.
Getting kids to read EVERYTHING
To ensure that your child becomes an avid reader and maximise the benefits of reading books, you don’t necessarily need to have a book always. You could encourage reading as a habit in multiple situations by sharing words, letters and pictures. Have them read from:
- Letters and notes sent by others. You can ask them to figure out who sent them and attempt to summarize the notes
- Packages that arrive at home or are found in shopping centers, especially food packaging
- Menus, when you go out for a meal or decide to order something at home. Encourage them to go through the entire menu and pick out something that they would like to eat
- Printed clothing with writing. Have them figure out the color and the message of what is printed
- Signs or posters which are present everywhere in the outside world; on trains, buses and shops
Time to read!
If you’ve been a reader all your life, you already know the benefits of reading but for those who are actively trying to build a reading habit, start off with books that interest you. You are far more likely to stick to a reading habit if you enjoy it and if it doesn’t feel like homework.