Reading books on a regular basis not only provides on-demand entertainment and information, it can offer several lifetime advantages and perks!
“Studies and brain scans prove reading activates different parts of our brain at once,” said Jennifer Bahrman, PhD, assistant professor of psychology with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston. “Reading a book is like taking our brain to the gym. It sharpens our mind and positively impacts both our mental and physical health.”
Books — even shorter ones — charge the brain.
“Unlike the tidbits of information we may read from social media, reading a book is a more conscious effort. It requires you to put a little time aside; it requires your mind to be fully present,” she said. “Newspaper, magazines, and other light materials are fine to read, but to get the greatest benefits out of reading, books are better because they hold more content to fuel our brain.”
Whether it is fiction or non-fiction, for pleasure or learning, any book will do.
“Find a topic that piques your interest, something you’ll enjoy. As long as it’s relaxing or entertaining to you, it works,” Bahrman said.
For anyone out of practice, try to read at least 10 minutes a day in the morning and/or evening. To squeeze in more reading, always carry a book (physical or electronic).
“You may be able to read a few pages or a chapter of a book while you’re waiting for the Metro or at doctor’s office or during your lunch hour. Of course, don’t forget a book on your way to the airport,” she said.
For National Book Month, this clinical psychologist gives six solid reasons to crack open a book — today!
Reading books helps build intelligence.
First, reading provides the brain with vocabulary; the vocabulary evolves into verbal and written skills; the communications skills advance to higher-level comprehension and critical thinking. Reading books essentially builds brain power by strengthening memory, attention span, and imagination.
This habit can benefit a person at any age, but it is particularly effective in early and late life.
“The process of reading books helps rewire our brain so it performs better. It actually helps us become smarter and more alert,” Bahrman said. “This is why we encourage parents to read to their babies and introduce their children to books early. It’s also why we encourage seniors to continue reading as the brain begins to get older.”
Reading books helps prolong memory.
A 2001 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that older adults who read regularly were 2.5 times less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Essentially, people must exercise their mind or risk losing some cognitive functions, such as memory.
“Reading novels, for instance, requires us to flex our memory with characters, plots, and subplots. It also requires our brain to use our imagination,” Bahrman said. “Reading stimulates our brain, so it’s very effective at slowing down mental aging. It’s protective.”
Reading books helps relax the mind and body.
A 2009 study from the University of Suffolk in England, revealed that reading six minutes a day can reduce stress by up to 68%. Another 2009 study in the Journal of College Teaching & Learning found that 30 minutes of reading lowered blood pressure, heart rate, and stress as effectively as yoga or humor.
“Reading a book is an opportunity to slow down and concentrate. When we’re feeling stressed or anxious, it helps us focus on something else temporarily,” Bahrman said.
It is also a way to wind down before bedtime.
“Because it can relax you, it can help you fall asleep easier. A print copy, though, is better before bedtime because the screen light from electronic devices can keep you up,” she said.
Reading books helps raise scores.
Because the process improves comprehension, concentration, and recollection (and overall intellect), students who read books independently score higher on achievement and aptitude tests. If available, study from “old school” hardbacks and paperbacks for important exams, such as standardized admission tests.
“Studies show people who read from a physical copy have better comprehension and retain more of what they read,” Bahrman said. “Print books help people focus better; electronic pages may be more mentally draining due to eye strain and screen time.”
Reading books helps develop empathy.
Fiction literature, in particular, offers different life perspectives through the eyes of characters. Readers, therefore, can better connect with more individuals in real life because of their heightened social and emotional intelligence.
“Reading helps you experience and understand other people’s situations and feelings. It helps develop an intelligence that makes you more aware and sensitive to others. It enables you to relate to more people,” Bahrman said. “Empathy is a valuable skill to have in the workplace. It’s key to working well in teams in your professional and personal life as well as managing and leading people.”
Reading books helps position one for success.
Book lovers typically achieve more in and out of the classroom. They also possess the desired traits employers seek, including: advanced-level education, demonstrated verbal and written skills, strong social intelligence, and greater ingenuity.
“You may do better in a job interview because of how well you articulated your answers, or you may be chosen for a promotion because of your people skills or your ability to come up with ideas and solutions,” Bahrman said. “Simply put, the more books you read, the more opportunities, career advancement, and general success you’re likely to have during your lifetime.”