As technology provides ever faster ways to get news, find information and stay amused, reading books tends to fall by the wayside. Most people sheepishly agree that they should read more, but few are aware of the many ways that reading enhances quality of life.
The benefits of reading for sustained periods of time are impossible to duplicate in short, random bytes. Your brain loves it when you curl up with a good book.
Read for Better Focus, Concentration and Memory
Peoples’ attention spans are getting shorter by the day. During any given five minutes, the average American has made or taken a phone call, checked his email, monitored his Facebook page, adjusted his calendar and done a bit of computer work. His ability to multi-task is admirable, but is he any more productive than if he focused on one thing at a time?
The experts say no. Focus and concentration are essential for learning, retaining information and improving memory. It takes about eight seconds for your brain to absorb new knowledge. A rapid-fire television report or succession of news bits from the Internet simply doesn’t give you enough time to learn very much. Reading is the perfect vehicle for slowing you down and giving your brain a chance to comprehend new ideas.
Books, especially fiction stories, require storing and retrieving facts about characters’ names, backgrounds and motives. Subplots and lingering questions must be tucked away in the back of the reader’s mind.
The human brain digs this stuff. Every time you form a new memory, the brain opens pathways for storing the information and recalling it when it’s needed.
Read to Sharpen Your Tools for Better Communication
Reading broadens your vocabulary. With more words to choose from, you’ll be better able to say exactly what you mean. Your grasp of language, with all its nuances, will be strengthened. Not surprisingly, people who read are more effective communicators both verbally and in writing. Good communication skills are an asset in the workplace and in society.
Non-native speakers of any language benefit from reading on their own, especially out loud. When new words are presented in flowing context, comprehension and fluency improve.
Read to Relieve Stress
Aside from the mental benefits of losing yourself in a good book, reading has been shown to reduce stress.
In a study conducted by Mindlab International at the University of Sussex, participants read to themselves for six minutes. During that time, their heart rates went down and muscular tension relaxed. Subjects who continued reading ended up with lower stress levels than when the test began.
Read to amaze your doctor and live longer.
Read to Get Smarter
Reading opens a treasure trove of new ideas, unknown worlds and diverse people. The exposure is not only rewarding to the reader; the brain recognizes fresh information and kicks into high gear. New material gives it a workout, so to speak. Brain cells are rejuvenated and grow stronger.
Readers build upon each newfound bit of knowledge. They link what they learn to endless avenues of exploration. They are imaginative, creative and equipped for challenges. Learning to avoid the mistakes of fiction heroes and real-life autobiographers, they discover strategies for solving problems.
They may explore their spirituality or improve their health. They’re inspired to set goals and devise action plans. They take up new hobbies and travel to destinations they read about. They improve their golf games. They tell the best jokes.
Readers seem to have more interesting lives than non-readers.
Read in Order to Wear Sexy Reading Glasses
Just like everyone loves babies and dogs, everyone loves readers. Having an open book in your hand is sure to draw the attention and curiosity of the opposite sex. It may result in an invitation to a book club or a date to the new movie based on the book—which is never as good, but you get the point.
You can use reading to increase your knowledge in a wide range of topics. This will give you greater confidence and you’ll be more open to meeting people. With your impressive new vocabulary, unusual intelligence and sexy reading glasses, you’ll be instantly popular at parties.
If you really want to show off, enroll in a speed-reading course. 1,700 words-per-minute is nothing to sneeze at.
Read to Improve Your World
There is plenty of proof that readers make the world a better place.
A recent study by the National Endowment for the Arts found that people who read regularly are three times more likely than those who don’t to give to charity and participate in volunteer work. They are also more engaged culturally than non-readers. They visit museums, purchase concert tickets and attend the theater more often.
The NEA didn’t study the likelihood of readers becoming inventors, but history shows that chances are very good.
Science fiction authors have eerily accurate imaginations. Mark Twain, a great fan of that genre, wrote a short story in 1898 that featured a “telelectroscope.” The machine used a phone system to connect people and information all over the world, the “daily doings of the globe made visible to everybody.” Anyone reading that without knowing the source and date would assume it was a modern description of the Internet and social media.
Jules Verne, in 1865, all but scripted the Apollo 11 moon mission in his story “From the Earth to the Moon.” How Verne knew that men would be weightless in space is anybody’s guess.
A number of inventions inspired by science fiction have made the world more efficient, more exciting, more convenient and safer.
Their inventors read books and got these big ideas:
• The submarine
Inspired by “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” Jules Verne, 1865
• The liquid-fueled rocket
Inspired by “War of the Worlds,” H. G. Wells, 1898
• Organ transplants and defibrillators
Inspired by “Frankenstein,” Mary Shelley, 1818
• Automatic sliding doors
Inspired by “When the Sleeper Wakes,” H.G. Wells, 1899
• The smartwatch
Inspired by “Dick Tracy” serial comics, created by Chester Gould, 1931-the present
• The taser, acronym for “Thomas A. Swift and His Electric Rifle”
Inspired by “Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle,” Stratemeyer Syndicate writers, 1911
Who knows? You may be the next reader to have a big idea that rocks the world.
Read to Be a Better Parent
The importance of teaching your kids to read can’t be overstated. At the very least, it may keep them from kicking each other during long car trips.
In seriousness, recent studies on literacy show that reading from an early age can be a life-changer:
- Children who regularly read perform better across all academic subjects, especially math.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics finds a link between reading and better health. Pediatricians regularly prescribe reading activities at health checkups.
- Having books in the home has more bearing on academic success than the father’s education level.
- According to the Department of Justice, over 70 percent of inmates in the U.S. can’t read above a 4th grade level.
- Illiteracy is strongly linked to poverty, unemployment, crime and dependence on welfare.
- Reading at home is the greatest single predictor of success in early education.
- Two-thirds of children who can’t read by the end of 4th grade will be jailed or on welfare in adulthood.
Teaching your children to read is one of the most loving ways to parent.
“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” — Charles W. Eliot
For a better world and a better you, read.