The benefits of reading cannot be overstated. Growing up, I lived in the middle of the countryside, necessitating lifts from my parents whenever I wanted to go somewhere.
While this was great in many respects, it felt increasingly inhibiting as I got older, before learning to drive. The saving grace? Reading.
Books were my saviour, providing a much-needed escape, allowing me to travel to foreign lands when reading one of my childhood fiction favourites, The Sharpe Chronicles, by Bernard Cromwell.
Learning to read well was one of the best investments of my life and has stood me in excellent stead ever since.
And despite my reading tastes evolving over the years to include many personal development and self-help titles, my enthusiasm for the written word remains.
So in this article, we’ll discuss the benefits of reading books and why you should consider committing to it as a habit.
Benefits of reading books
Learning is an integral part of reading, whatever type of genre you’re passionate about. Reading fiction enhances vocabulary and diction as you see good writing in action, while the content of many non-fiction books allows you to internalise the hard-won knowledge of some of history’s greatest thinkers.
2. Increases intelligence
Evidence demonstrates that learning to read as children increases cross-domain knowledge and intelligence in later life.
“Twins with better earlier reading ability compared to their identical cotwin tended not only to have better reading at subsequent measurements but also higher scores on general intelligence tests. No associations of reading exposure with intelligence were found beyond those of reading ability. We also found that the associations are not restricted to possible effects of reading on the verbal domain—mainly affecting vocabulary and general knowledge—but extend to associations of reading with nonverbal intelligence.”
Such findings clearly have an impact on how we teach children and assist struggling readers in their tuition.
3. Promotes relaxation
As your reading level improves, it becomes a relaxing activity. The caveat here is that your reading competence and comprehension must reach a level where your mind can be absorbed by the message of the book, rather than be absorbed in trying to parse the meaning of the words. The good thing? This is just a matter of daily practice. So whether you’re into page-turning thrillers or business books, you can sit back and relax at the end of a hard day before going to bed.
4. Assists sleep
Evidence suggests that reading for a short time before bed can improve sleep duration, while further research (although limited in its scope) discovered that,
“Reading a book in bed before going to sleep improved sleep quality, compared to not reading a book in bed.”
5. Reduces cognitive decline
Reading stimulates our brain, engaging our cognitive functions as we parse and interpret individual words into a meaningful narrative. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that in a 14-year longitudinal study, reading was found to decrease the likelihood of cognitive impairment, with promising potential to increase health in community settings, regardless of education level.
“In conclusion, the current study presents the evidence that more engagement in reading independently predicted a reduced risk of cognitive decline in later life. Furthermore, the long-term favorable effect could be observed at all education levels; low education might not impede the beneficial effect of reading activities on cognitive function for older people. Promoting reading activity is a promising approach to improve cognitive health in community settings.”
6. Increases lifespan
As a follow on to the point above, not only can regular reading as a personal development activity reduce cognitive decline, but research also suggests that, due to similar mechanisms, it can make us live longer.
“The results of our study are consistent with the findings of that study, as more frequent reading of books or newspapers was associated with a lower risk of mortality among the oldest-old population. The possible mechanism underlying the positive effect is that the survival advantage of reading books is exerted through a cognitive function mediator. Thus, the findings of previous studies and the current study suggest that frequent engagement in intellectual activities (playing cards or mah-jong, reading books or newspapers) may exert a protective effect and decrease the risk of all-cause mortality in later life.”
7. Provides motivation
This probably applies more the non-fiction books, but reading biographies or personal growth books can provide the motivation required to change your life for the better. If you’re stuck in a rut and your current behaviour doesn’t reflect your future goals, reading the story of someone who’s been your position and transformed their life can be just the fuel you need to begin taking positive action.
8. Improves your writing
Clear communication, both verbal and written, is one of the most in-demand attributes, with positive effects personally and professionally. Luckily, reading widely facilitates this skill. Seeing how the best authors set their words down on the page immediately improves your own writing, allowing you to improve your vocabulary, sentence structure and storytelling.
9. Aids persuasiveness
Good literature, at its essence, is about storytelling, whether that be fiction or non-fiction. Learning to craft a persuasive proposition is, therefore, one of the prime benefits of reading books. This could be deployed when leading a team at work and selling them your vision, or simply trying to persuade your children to brush their teeth! Fiction allows you to understand the believable components of a story when creating your own narratives, while non-fiction supplies evidence, facts and research to underpin your arguments.
10. Cultivates inspiration
Whenever I read I become inspired. I often think of the author, spending countless hours researching and writing to bring all their knowledge and experience to bear. The fact that authors genuinely want to share their perspectives with the world is humbling, inspiring me in my own endeavours.
11. Develops creativity
Creativity is one of the kernels of good writing. Creating a story in fiction or a seamless narrative in non-fiction transports the reader into another world, casting a spell upon them. By exposing yourself to this artistry, you begin to identify the building blocks of creative writing and how this might apply to other domains. This exposure might well cross-pollinate other areas of your life, encouraging engagement in arts, crafts or music.
“The artist is a collector… Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by.” Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon.
12. Promotes acceptance
It’s easy in the online world to become trapped in our own echo chamber of belief. Algorithms feed us content based on what we’ve browsed before, meaning we’re only ever exposed to the same viewpoints, polarising us as a society even further. Books can help bridge the gap. By consciously choosing to read different views and opinions we can cultivate empathy, balance our beliefs and create a more complete map of the world.
Reading can have an outsized impact in life and it’s never too late to start. This is why I encourage books and recommend reading (here are some summaries!) so frequently on this site. You’re only ever one book away from completely transforming your existence, so why not turn that first page?
“I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.” Jorge Luis Borges