Some folks devour books by the dozen, while others rarely crack one open. It turns out, though, that the avid readers might have a real edge. Learn the unexpected benefits of reading, and check out our own collections of favorites to add to your own must-read list.
1. Reading expands background knowledge
It’s obvious that we can learn a lot by reading. But it’s not just nonfiction that expands our knowledge. Even fiction can teach us new things, especially when it’s well-researched historical fiction or a realistic novel set in a different place. Reading about unknown events and settings can spark an interest in learning more, helping to build a store of information on a variety of subjects.
2. It builds a robust vocabulary
On that same note, reading exposes us to new words on a regular basis. One of our favorite benefits of reading e-books is the ability to highlight a word and get an immediate definition. (Plus you can learn how to pronounce it correctly, so you can use it confidently in public!) When you read regular books, keep a notepad handy to jot down unfamiliar words. This way, you can look them up later without taking yourself out of the story.
3. Some people learn best by reading
All people learn differently, and some retain information best through reading and writing (learn more about learning styles here). Though this is one of the most traditional types of learning, it’s a classic because it works well in many situations. While it’s always best to offer a variety of learning options in the classroom, don’t neglect the simple benefits of reading and writing.
4. It improves cognition
Cognitive processes are the ones that help us learn new things. Neuroscientists say that reading actually strengthens your brain, even after you’ve moved on to something else. The more you read, the more parts of your brain activate, with lasting effects. And this goes for any type of reading, not just nonfiction.
5. Reading improves focus and concentration
Researchers have found that the area of the brain that’s stimulated during reading is the same as that used for concentration, planning, and decision-making. Reading of any type helps “exercise” that part of the brain and keep it sharp. This helps you focus in other areas too.
6. It helps build and maintain memory
When you read a book, especially fiction, you have to remember what you’ve read at the beginning in order for the end to make any sense. Reading trains the parts of your brain that form memories. This sharpens your memory in other aspects of life too. Plus, researchers now believe that reading can actually slow cognitive decline as we age.
7. Readers develop strong critical thinking skills
When we teach kids to read, we don’t just teach them to decode and understand words. We also focus on reading comprehension, asking students to analyze and evaluate what they’ve read. This can develop good habits that continue throughout a lifetime. People who read a great deal usually also spend a lot of time thinking about what they’ve read. They learn to ask critical thinking questions and use them in every day life.
8. Frequent readers are better writers
People who read have bigger vocabularies and a better grasp on written communication skills. Children who spend a lot of time with books see proper punctuation, spelling, sentence structure, and more in action. This makes it easier for them to use those concepts the right way when they do their own writing. Readers also experience different writing styles and can then model their own writing on what they’ve seen.
9. Reading can improve communication skills
Interestingly, reading can improve not only your writing but also your speaking skills. Researchers note that reading and speaking involve many of the same parts of the brain. In fact, reading is one of the most effective ways of learning a foreign language, boosting word recognition and comprehension.
10. Reading helps build problem-solving skills
To solve problems in everyday life, we have to identify the issue clearly, analyze the causes, and come up with creative solutions. Reading teaches all of these skills! Reading comprehension is all about understanding what’s happening in a story, then analyzing and evaluating the events and characters’ actions. Plus, when we read, we’re exposed to new ideas constantly, which can help us think outside the box when we need to solve problems.
11. Reading may help you live longer
This might be one of the most surprising benefits of reading. Some scientists believe one of the benefits of reading books is that it may help you live a longer life. A 2017 study found that those who read at least 3.5 hours a week were 23% more likely to outlive their peers.
12. Reading promotes better sleep
Lots of people read for a few minutes in bed before going to sleep, and there’s a good reason for that. Recent research found that reading a book at bedtime helped people fall asleep faster and improved their overall sleep quality. It’s important to remember that the blue light from reading on screens can have a negative effect on sleep. So choose a paper book, or use blue light filters when reading in bed.
13. Reading books reduces stress
Here’s an incredible statistic: Reading for as little as 6 minutes can decrease stress up to 68%. When you read, you distract your brain from the problems of the day. This allows your muscles to relax, decreasing blood pressure and heart rate. Reading a book is more effective at reducing stress than listening to music or even taking a walk.
14. Reading helps us deal with grief and tragedy
Consider this quote from author G.K. Chesterton: “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” In other words, reading reminds us that others have lived through difficult times too and that problems can be overcome.
15. Reading can boost your mood
Reading has such a strong positive effect on mental health that psychologists now prescribe it as treatment for conditions like depression. Bibliotherapy involves directed reading using selected books for specific mental conditions. Beyond that, taking a few minutes to sink into a beloved book can help reset your emotions, and let you return to real life feeling a little more rested and relaxed.
16. Books can teach social skills
Preschool and elementary teachers regularly use books to help teach kids about making friends, being kind, and fighting bullies. But older students and adults can gain these skills from reading too. Whether you’re reading a nonfiction book designed to develop specific skills, or just learning new ways to approach life through the actions of characters in a novel, reading can provide positive role models for us to emulate.
17. Reading expands your worldview
In a time when all of us should be making a concerted effort to embrace diversity and learn about other cultures, books provide an easy way to explore other worlds. Nonfiction on a variety of topics helps, of course, but so does reading the fiction of other cultures and countries. Look for books by indigenous, AAPI, Black, and Hispanic authors to share with your students or add to your classroom library whenever possible.
18. It opens your mind to other points of view
They say you can never know a person until you walk a mile in their shoes. But reading books is another excellent way to see the world from a different perspective. Even if you disagree with the author on every single page, you’re at least taking the time to hear and consider alternate points of view. And more often that not, you’ll find that reading about personal experiences can be a trigger to change your own mindset.
19. Reading builds empathy
Speaking of changing mindsets, reading is a key way to teach and learn empathy toward others. Studies show that readers who make connections with fictional characters develop empathy toward similar people in real life. Stories draw us in and invite us to care about the types of people we might not meet every day. But when we do meet them, the empathy developed through reading helps influence our interactions with them in a positive way.
20. Many find a sense of support and community through reading
People who feel alone in the world are often voracious readers. They’re looking for characters that make them feel like they belong, like “their people” really do exist. This is especially important for those in marginalized communities like LGBTQ+ folks. Being able to see people like themselves recognized as valid and worthy in books and other writings reminds them that they’re not alone. That’s why it’s so vital to keep books with diverse characters of all kinds on library and classroom shelves, where the kids who so desperately need them are able to find them.
21. It can encourage an interest in social justice
As we get older, each of us comes to realize that sometimes (or a lot of times), the world isn’t fair. But kids today are developing a strong sense of social justice, and books are a key factor. Reading about inspiring people like Dr. King can help them (and us) explore difficult topics like racial justice in a low-stakes way.
22. Reading builds connections with others
“OMG, you HAVE to read this book! I want to talk about it with somebody!” Most adults have said that to someone at some point (or had it said to them). Reading brings us together in powerful ways. Millions of adults join book clubs each year, discovering new reads and discussing them avidly with others. Families can do this too—learn how to start your own multi-generational book club here.
23. It also provides an escape from the world
On the other hand, sometimes there’s nothing better than shutting the whole world out and diving deep into a book. It’s this total disconnect that scientists believe provides the physical health benefits of reading like stress relief. We all need downtime, and reading for pleasure is one of the most beneficial ways to relax.
24. Reading encourages imagination and creativity
When little ones read books, they’re usually filled with pictures and vivid color. As we get older, though, books become mainly text. This is actually a good thing, since it encourages us to use our imaginations. We can envision the characters and settings however we like, bringing the author’s world to life right inside our own heads. This often inspires us to be more creative and visionary in other aspects of life too.
25. Reading is fun!
OK, not everyone loves to read. But almost anyone can find something to read that they truly enjoy. That’s why it’s so important to urge kids to read anything and everything. There are lots of benefits to reading books, but magazines, comics, newspapers, and audiobooks (yes, audiobooks!) have value too. Let kids read what interests them, and they’ll find so many new worlds to explore.