The statistics are in and it’s clear Americans are not big readers. There are just so many entertainment options. We just read 16.8 minutes a day versus 166.2 minutes watching television, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And according to a Pew Research Center study, a quarter of Americans don’t even read books at all.
This is unfortunate, as there are a multitude of advantages to reading books. So before you kick back and load the Netflix app, consider these benefits.
1. Increased empathy.
Studies have found that those who read literary fiction show an increased capability to understand emotions and the views of others. This is called the “theory of mind” by academics and is a crucial set of skills for developing, navigating and sustaining social relationships. Longtime fiction readers tend to have an enhanced theory of mind. In a workplace increasingly reliant on people skills, that’s no small benefit.
2. Sharpens the mind
Reading vitalizes the brain. By focusing on words, following a story line and analyzing a plot you are exercising your grey matter. In a study conducted in 2013, researches used MRI scans to study the effect of reading a novel on the brain. Participants read the novel “Pompeii” over a period of 9 days. As tension grew in the story line, more and more areas of the brain lit up with neurological activity.
Researches also used MRI scans to find that reading affects the network of circuits and signals in the brain. As your reading ability evolves, those networks also get stronger and more sophisticated. This can pay off big time later in life. For example, a study found that a lifelong reader reduced memory decline by 30% in old age.
3. Increased vocabulary
The more you read, the more exposed you are to new words. Being articulate and well spoken is an advantage in any career. This includes not only the job interview, but also communicating and leading people.
4. Stress relief
A captivating novel can do a lot. You will be absorbed by the characters and plot and pressures such as work and school will dissipate. A study by the Mayo Clinic found that 30 minutes of reading decreased blood pressure, heart rate and feelings of psychological distress just as well as yoga did. If you are currently going through a lot of stress, a book is a great way to escape.
5. Improve writing ability
Observing the writing of other people will affect your own. This includes not only vocabulary but also elements like style and grammar. While you might not become the next J.K. Rowling, better writing skills serve you well in both your professional and personal life.
6. Better sleep
Reading allows your muscles to relax and slows down your breathing. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic recommend reading as part of a healthy sleep routine. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, try a book before bedtime. It’s often recommended a hard copy , as the light of a screen can overstimulate the body.
Books are not only entertaining but are also much more than a passive way to kill time. So before spending another weekend with the Xbox, consider going to a library or book store near you.