Why is reading important?
When was the last time when you read the book? How many books do you finish on a yearly basis? How many minutes are you reading daily?
It seems that reading is slowly losing the battle over the Internet, social media, and other forms of modern entertainment. The survey conducted in the USA in 2017 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017) showed that an average adult American spends daily on 16 minutes of pleasure reading while they spend 168 minutes watching television. Not surprisingly, different age group differs regarding the total amount of time spent reading. Older people (age 75 and older) spent an average of 51 minutes daily reading, while people ages 14 to 45 spent only 10 minutes or less reading. It is reasonable to assume that now, the average reading time is even less compared with the data from 5 years ago.
However, despite decreasing popularity of reading, it is not a secret that there are many benefits of reading books. Subjectively, each avid reader can provide you easily with their list of benefits, but also, scientific research strongly indicates that reading could be good both for our body and mind. In case you are lacking motivation for reading, check below our list of benefits of reading.
Benefits Of Reading Books:
- Reading increase your vocabulary
Not surprisingly, reading increases vocabulary both in kids and adults (Sullivan, 2015). Furthermore, the same authors stated that the type of books that someone reads could also determine how much reading will be beneficial for vocabulary improvement. It was shown that people who read classic and contemporary fiction - showed more increase in their vocabulary.
- Reading helps your writing. An increase in your vocabulary directly will also benefit your writing. It is well known that many (if not all) writers are/were also avid readers. Here you can find quotes from famous writers about their love for reading.
- Reading increases empathy and enables you to understand others
Reading could play an important role in cultivating empathy and different point of view. Some nursing and medical schools (Watson, 2015) offer different literature courses to their students with the assumption that reading increases empathy and cultural development. Furthermore, reading also should enhance critical thinking and observational skills. All of these skills are relevant and important for a health practitioner.
Another study (Bal & Veltkamp, 2013), using experimental design, demonstrated the link between reading fiction and empathy. The result of this study showed that readers who were emotionally transported into the story showed higher empathy over a period of one week.
Interestingly, this effect did not occur in the control group, where participants were reading non-fiction. In other words, not every reading will improve our empathy.
In the end, reading fiction will not just increase our empathy towards other humans. One study (Malecki et al., 2016) showed that after reading about animal abuse, participants showed more concerns about animal welfare compared to the control group. The results of this study are important because they highlight the potential of literature usage for education and raising awareness about important social and environmental issues.
- Reading makes you more intelligent
It seems that reading and intelligence are interconnected. On the one hand, smarter people (and kids) tend to read more. But does reading further benefits their development of intelligence? One longitudinal study conducted in Britain (Sullivan, 2015) compared kids with similar social backgrounds and who previously scored similarly on cognitive tests at ages 5 and 10. Results showed that kids who were reading regularly scored better at the age of 16 compared to kids who did not read. Reading affected their intellectual progress but also their spelling, vocabulary, and math skills.
In other words, reading helps you collect the thoughts and views of others and develop an educated opinion.
- You’ll become a better communicator
Knowing that reading improves vocabulary (Sullivan, 2015) but also empathy and understanding of other cultures (Watson, 2015), it is not surprising that you might become a better communicator. You will be able to more fluently express your opinion and feeling while being sensitive towards other people’s needs and standpoints.
- Reading can give you a ‘how-to’ guide
Whether you prefer reading fiction or non-fiction, there are plenty of learning opportunities. Reading science-related books can help us expand our knowledge and understanding. On the other hand, reading fiction allows us facing with some moral and emotional dilemmas (through characters with whom we have strong identification) that might not be part of our daily life.
- If you read, you will live longer
Reading not only can make your life more interesting but also longer. Bavishi and colleagues (2016) showed that book readers live longer than non-readers. Book readers have 20% lower odds of dying compared to non-readers in 12 years of follow-up. Also, this study reported another interesting finding. It was shown that reading books are associated with more benefits than reading periodicals.
- Reading reduces stress
Reading could also be used as a simple intervention for stress reduction. Studies (for example, Jin, 1992) showed that reading for 60 minutes after doing some stressful task reduced the symptoms of anxiety but also regulated blood pressure and heart rates. Similarly, Rizzolo and colleagues (2009) in their study also reported the benefits of reading in stress management. They compared the effects of yoga, humor, and reading on acute stress. The results of their study proved that all three interventions were equally successful in stress reduction. More precisely, all three interventions decreased the physiological symptoms of acute stress, such as systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, and heart rate
- Reading promotes mental well-being
One study (Clark & e Teravainen-Goff, 2018) showed a positive association between enjoying reading and writing, reading daily, and having a positive attitude towards reading and mental well-being, particularly in younger kids. The same study showed that kids and young adults who like to read and read daily also reported higher levels of life satisfaction, better coping strategies, and more positive self-beliefs compared to non-readers.
- Reading can help with depression and anxiety
Bibliotherapy was shown as a very effective treatment for mild to moderate depression. Interestingly some studies (e.g., Smith et al., 1997) suggest that the effects of bibliotherapy could be lasting. In the follow-up study conducted three years after initial cognitive bibliotherapy, the treatment gains were still evident.
Furthermore, bibliotherapy is also useful for treating anxiety. Lewis and colleagues (2015) in their study reported that 4-week bibliotherapy significantly reduced anxiety in children and decreased the occurrence of nighttime fears.
- Reading helps you sleep
If you have trouble falling asleep, reading could help. By decreasing the level of stress as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety, it is not surprising that reading before bed could help you sleep better. However, make sure that you are reading a real book instead of e-books, blogs, etc. Namely, it is well known that usage of devices before sleep could negatively impact your sleep (Twenge et al., 2019). The same applies not just to your phone but also tablets, e-readers, etc.
- Reading decrease loneliness
We all know that the best cure for loneliness is socialization. However, in some situations, that simply isn’t possible. Loneliness is a frequent issue in the elderly population. Some studies (e.g., Rane-Szostak & Herth, 1995) showed that reading could help cope with loneliness in older adults.
- Reading protects your memory
Engagement in brain-stimulative activities such as reading, playing chess, or doing puzzles might reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (Friedland et al., 2001). Another study (Tennakoon, 2019) also provided additional support for the positive association between reading and memory. Namely, the majority of elder participants (who were in nursery homes) from this study stated that reading helps them with improving memory and delaying cognitive decline. They also reported that reading reduces stress levels.
- Reading is fun
Last but not least, reading provides us with joy and entertainment. Books allow us to visit different places and time epoche, encountering mythical creatures or historical figures, all while we are sitting comfortably in our cozy chairs. Reading lets us experience scary and dangerous places and situations while staying safe.
Are there any drawbacks to reading?
As we already mentioned, some studies (Bavishi et al., 2016) showed that reading periodicals might not be as beneficial as reading books. Also, if you like to read before bed - make sure not to use your e-readers or phone. Based on the available literature seems that reading has multiple positive impacts on the quality of our life and cognitive processes. But what about the negative impact of reading?
Below you can find our list of drawbacks of reading:
- Reading as an escape from real-life problems and situations
Despite the numerous benefits of reading (we mentioned only a few of them) - in some situations, excessive reading could have negative effects on our mental health. If reading serves as a distraction from the real world and makes someone isolated - then disadvantages outrun potential benefits. Fiction should not be a replacement for real-life relations and experiences.
2. Reading things that we are not using for personal development
In the less extreme example, the drawback of reading occurs in situations when for example kid is very keen on reading but not school-related material, which negatively impacts their grades and achievement. Another problem is if we only read and learn on the theoretical level while we never test and use in practice our acquired knowledge.
3. Reding increases the sedentary time
Reading for a longer period of time might also decrease the level of our physical activities and negatively impact our physical health. Of course, this could be just an excuse for laziness. You can be an avid reader and still find time for your regular exercise.
4. Reading might mislead you
As it was mentioned before - not all reading will result in positive outcomes. If you are reading on Internet (whether on forums or Wikipedia), then you probably already know that the Internet is full of misinformation (but also, there is a handful of useful information). Recent COVID-19 pandemics show us the danger of “own research.”
Of course, this does not mean that you should completely ignore all online sources. You just need to learn how to pick good ones. But how to know the difference? Reading will improve your media literacy, so eventually, you will become good at detecting reliable information from untrustworthy. Also, you will develop critical thinking, which will help you detect discrepancies, lack of information, logical mistakes, etc.
5. Books are not as illustrative as videos
Furthermore, it is also important to mention that some people cannot fully benefit from reading because their lack of imagination prevents them from fully emerging into literature. After all, there is a good reason why we like to watch movies or just scroll on Facebook.
6. Books are expensive and take up a lot of space
Every book-lovers knows the struggle. However, e-books can save a lot of money and space. Also, being a member of a local library save your pocket while giving you an additional chance to meet other readers.
By reading this text, there is a great chance that you are one of those people who still are finding time for reading. Hopefully, this text will increase your knowledge and arouse your curiosity. Knowing so many benefits of reading - will you increase your daily reading time?
Bal, P. M., & Veltkamp, M. (2013). How does fiction reading influence empathy? An experimental investigation on the role of emotional transportation. PloS one, 8(1), e55341.
Bavishi, A., Slade, M.D., & Levy, B.R. (2016). A chapter a day: Association of book reading with longevity. Social Science and Medicine, 164, 44-48.
Bureau of Labor Statistics (2017). American Time Use Survey – 2017 Results, www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/atus_06282018.pdf
Clark, C., & Teravainen-Goff, A. (2018). Mental Wellbeing, Reading and Writing: How Children and Young People's Mental Wellbeing Is Related to Their Reading and Writing Experiences. National Literacy Trust Research Report. National Literacy Trust.
Friedland, R. P., Fritsch, T., Smyth, K. A., Koss, E., Lerner, A. J., Chen, C. H., ... & Debanne, S. M. (2001). Patients with Alzheimer's disease have reduced activities in midlife compared with healthy control-group members. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 98(6), 3440-3445.
Jin, P. (1992). Efficacy of Tai Chi, brisk walking, meditation, and reading in reducing mental and emotional stress. Journal of psychosomatic research, 36(4), 361-370.
Lewis, K. M., Amatya, K., Coffman, M. F., & Ollendick, T. H. (2015). Treating nighttime fears in young children with bibliotherapy: Evaluating anxiety symptoms and monitoring behavior change. Journal of anxiety disorders, 30, 103-112.
Małecki, W., Pawłowski, B., & Sorokowski, P. (2016). Literary fiction influences attitudes toward animal welfare. PLoS one, 11(12), e0168695.
Rizzolo, D., Zipp, G. P., Stiskal, D., & Simpkins, S. (2009). Stress management strategies for students: The immediate effects of yoga, humor, and reading on stress. Journal of College Teaching & Learning (TLC), 6(8).
Rane-Szostak, D. & Herth, K. (1995). Pleasure reading, other activities, and loneliness in later life. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 39, 100-108.
Smith, N. M., Floyd, M. R., Scogin, F., & Jamison, C. S. (1997). Three-year follow-up of bibliotherapy for depression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 65(2), 324–327.
Sullivan, A. (2015). The life-long benefits of reading for pleasure. The School Librarian, 63(1), 5.
Tennakoon, T. M. R. P. K. (2019). A study on understanding leisure time activities amoung institutionalized older adults in Sri Lanka. International Journal of Engineering Applied Sciences and Technology, 4(05), 47-55.
Twenge, J. M., Hisler, G. C., & Krizan, Z. (2019). Associations between screen time and sleep duration are primarily driven by portable electronic devices: Evidence from a population-based study of US children ages 0–17. Sleep medicine, 56, 211-218.
Watson, E. M. (2016). The importance of leisure reading to health sciences students: results of a survey. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 33(1), 33-48.