Seven Interesting Ways That Reading Can Improve Your Life

September is National Literacy Month here in the U.S. and in celebration of this, I’m dedicating all the blog posts and newsletter articles in September to the subject of reading. I’m also giving away free success books as my way of honoring the benefit reading has had on my life. It’s my way of giving back.

Speaking of the benefits of reading, we all know that reading increases our knowledge. But did you know that reading may have other benefits as well? In today’s post, I list seven interesting ways that reading may improve your life.

1. Reading may reduce stress. Research conducted at the University of Sussex showed that reading was the most effective way to overcome stress, even better and faster than favorite stress reducers like listening to music, enjoying a cup of coffee and even taking a walk. Once the study participants started reading, it took the participants just six minutes to relax, which was measured by evaluating their heart rate and muscle tension. Reading worked best, reducing stress levels by 68%. Listening to music reduced stress levels by 61%, having a cup of coffee lowered them by 54% and taking a walk by 42%. Psychologists believe this is because the human mind has to concentrate on reading and the distraction of being taken into a book world eases the tensions in muscles and the heart. Takeaway: Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate form of relaxation. Read to relax.

2. Reading may help prevent Alzheimer’s. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that older people who read regularly are two and a half times less likely to have Alzheimer’s. While that doesn’t mean reading alone will prevent Alzheimer’s, it does suggest that there’s a connection between activities that stimulate our brains, like reading, and prevention. Studies show that if we don’t “exercise” our brains, we may actually lose brain function. For example, being involved in activities that require high levels of concentration are associated with increased mental ability and people who engage in activities such as reading, playing board games or dancing are less likely to develop dementia. Takeaway: Use it or lose it. Get in the habit of reading a book a week to exercise your brain.

3. Reading can make you smarter. This may be the most obvious statement of this post, right? Well, it turns out that reading helps in almost every area of intelligence. Those that read typically have higher GPA’s, higher intelligence, and general knowledge than those that don’t. In today’s world, intelligence and reading generally go hand in hand. In fact, the increased emphasis on reading skills in schools may partly explain why students perform, on average, about 20 points higher on IQ tests now than in the early 20th century. This so-called Flynn effect is named after James Flynn, a New Zealand professor who has devoted much of his career to studying the worldwide phenomena of increasing IQ scores. And if reading can increase intelligence, the opposite is also true: increased intelligence also improves reading comprehension. They feed one another. Takeaway: No matter what you’re wanting to do or become, you can’t do it without more knowledge. Reading is an excellent way to get where you’re wanting to go.

4. Reading may help you sleep better. Our eyes and brains weren’t designed to sit in front of glowing computer screens all day. These bright lights stimulate the brain and tell our bodies it’s time to wake up. In an age when many spend 8 to 10 hours in front of a screen each day, it can be hard for our bodies to calm down at bed time. Many sleep experts say that reading a book (e-books don’t count!) about an hour before bed can be a great way to signal to your body that it’s time to rest. Along with a consistent sleep/wake schedule, winding down before bed is one of the best ways to get your sleep back on track. Our body craves routine and likes to know what’s coming according to Dr. Lawrence Epstein, co-author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep. By creating a pre-sleep ritual, you associate certain activities and sleep. For instance, if you read before heading to bed, your body knows that reading at night signals sleep time. Takeaway: After a day of being stimulated by everything we see and hear, it can be very hard to shut down your brain at bedtime. Use reading to separate the day from the nighttime.

5. Reading may improve your ability to focus. As we discussed above, your brain is called to action when you read. But reading also requires you to concentrate more. Reading forces us to pause and imagine and is a great way to build-up our focus. Try reading something without stopping for just thirty minutes, and slowly build your stamina to reading for an hour or even two hours with only short breaks. By learning to focus on the reading material in front of you, you’ll learn to better focus on other things as well. Can you think of an activity where better focus would help you? How about on your goals? Takeaway: Reading can help keep your mind sharp and increase your capacity to focus. Use reading to help you build the concentration muscle that’s so important for achieving success.

6. Reading may help you socially. The New York Times recently reported on a study that found “people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence” after reading. These are skills that help us to read body language in others and help you understand others’ ideas better. Reading can also help make a person more well-rounded and give them more ways to relate to someone. Reading gives you more background knowledge about topics and makes it easier to come up with subjects to talk about. Reading more means you’ll have more experiences, which you can use to relate to a wider range of people. Takeaway: Get better at reading to get better with people. It’s a bridge to connecting with people.

7. Reading may help you get ahead in your career. It’s no secret that reading increases your vocabulary and improves your spelling, but did you know that reading increases your vocabulary more than talking or direct teaching? Here’s why: Reading forces us to look at words that we might not have seen or heard recently. In fact, the language in some children’s books can be more sophisticated than in an average conversation! An increased vocabulary can increase your ability to communicate by writing, conversing, or making speeches – all things that help make you a better communicator. The fact is, that many of the words you know were probably learned simply by coming across them often enough in your reading or in conversation. But what if you could increase the pace of your learning? If you learned only one new word a day for the next three years, you would have over a thousand new words in your vocabulary. However, if you decided right now to learn ten new words a day, in one year you would have added over three thousand to what you already know and probably establish a lifetime habit of learning and self-improvement. Takeaway: Large vocabularies characterize people of success. They help them grasp the thoughts of others better and are a tool to do your own thinking. Learn more to earn more.

If you’re one of countless people who don’t make a habit of reading regularly, you might be missing out. Reading has a significant number of benefits, and just a few benefits of reading are listed above. Reading opens doors. Reading makes us better. To put it bluntly: successful people read, unsuccessful people don’t.

Reading takes time, but rewards you with intellectual riches. If life is a game of inches, and you’ve read a few hundred important books, you’ve got a leg up on anyone who hasn’t. When was the last time you read a book?

Be free. Nothing else is worth it.