Why Reading Matters (to You & Your Kids)

Healthy Living

March 10, 2020

Thousands of schools celebrated Read Across America Day last week, a program founded over 20 years ago to encourage a love of reading — and a boost in literacy — for kids and their caregivers. Traditionally held on Dr. Seuss’s birthday (March 2nd), Read Across America has shifted towards a year-round mission to get pages turning in the young and old alike.

Reading affords a host of health benefits. These benefits might start in childhood, but they last a lifetime.

Not much of a reader? Prefer to skim or listen to audiobooks? Here are a few good reasons to give the printed word another chance. Your mind and body will thank you.

(And if you’re already an avid reader, good for you! Share this with a non-reader in your life who needs some science to see the light.)

Reading keeps your brain healthy.

You might know that reading improves your brain health, but it goes beyond acquired knowledge. Along with giving you a more robust vocabulary, reading actually changes your brain (in a good way). It gets the juices flowin’ in your noggin — to put it lightly — and encourages brain connectivity. One study showed that people who read a novel continued to experience this boost in brain connectivity for several days after finishing the book.

The effects of reading on your brain start early. A study from the UK in 2009 concluded that kids who read often at age 10 (and more than once a week at age 16) got better scores in math, vocabulary and spelling tests at age 16 than their peers who didn’t read as often.

As for that boost in vocab skills? That’s no small thing. The ability to communicate well starts with knowing which words to use, a skill that benefits us all. Renaissance, an education company in Wisconsin, found the difference between kids who read 30+ minutes a day and those who read less than 15 minutes to be 12 million words.

More specifically, kids who read more than 30 minutes a day from kindergarten to 12th grade will likely encounter about 13.7 million words. If that same set of kids read less than 15 minutes a day instead, they’d only encounter about 1.5 million words — a difference of 12 million words.

Renaissance also found a big leap between kids who read less than 15 minutes a day and those who read 15-29 minutes a day. This middle group will see about 5.7 million words by the time they graduate high school. That’s well below those in the 30+ minutes group but still almost four times higher than the ones reading hardly anything.

As for adults, the benefits of reading 30 or more minutes a day continue into old age. In a Yale study on people older than 50, people who read for half an hour a day lived nearly two years longer than their non-reading (and magazine-only reading) counterparts.

And while there’s no conclusive proof that reading will stop diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s altogether, there is some research to suggest that reading stems the flow of cognitive decline. Seniors who read daily have a better chance of staying sharp as they get older.

Your body benefits from a good reading session, too.

Reading isn’t just good for your brain. It’s good for your general wellbeing, both mentally and physically.

Per Healthline, one study from 2009 showed that reading for 30 minutes had the same effect on stress as humor and yoga. It lowered the heart rate, blood pressure and feelings of psychological distress in the study participants (college students).

You don’t necessarily have to read novels to benefit from literature, either. One study found that people who read short fiction tended to be more open-minded and creative than people who read long, nonfiction essays.

Reading physical books may help you sleep better, too. Establishing a good sleep routine is the first step in getting ready for better sleep. Dim the lights, quiet the environment and get settled in for a night of peaceful slumber.

Good sleep isn’t just a luxury. It’s essential to your health. Don’t cheat yourself out of beauty rest.

Sleep experts suggest incorporating a physical book into your nightly bedtime routine to relax. The printed word will help calm your mind and keep your thoughts under control. Check out our list of sleep-friendly book suggestions if you need a place to start.

Save digital reading and social media scrolling for daytime. The light from electronic devices may interfere with your wind-down process.

Need one more good reason to tackle that to-read stack? How about this: It’ll make you a better person.

Readers are happier and more empathetic.

It’ll come as no surprise to regular readers that reading offers an escape from the cares of real life. But that’s not just in your head.

Your brain actually gets some sense of movement from the act of reading. In other words, your brain tells your body that you’re in the protagonist’s place, following along as he navigates the problems in front of him. This virtual walk through a fictional character’s shoes allows you to see your own problems more clearly. As a result, you’ll feel less stressed, less depressed and more relaxed.

In fact, the practice of using books as a technique for alleviating mental and physical stress has a name: bibliotherapy. And while this concept is as old as literature itself, scientific research now supports the idea that reading helps people:

  • Understand other people better
  • Build a stronger sense of compassion
  • Get outside of themselves
  • Learn how to cope with problems

In short, reading makes you more empathetic, kinder and more compassionate — not only to other humans but to yourself as well.

So the next time you want to curl up with a good book but feel a slight twinge of guilt about eschewing your responsibilities for a little “me time,” remember: Reading is good for your health. Science says so.