In 2017 I read more books than ever before. Books about politics, economics, history or philosophy – I was able to check off so many books from the list of books that I have wanted to read for the longest time. I am proud to say that today, I am a little smarter than I was in 2016. However, I was a surprised to see that building a base of knowledge is only one small part of the amazing benefits of reading books.
Today we will cover 5 benefits of reading and the science behind them. Fiction and non-fiction alike, these benefits will have even the most book-averse people you know reconsidering their feelings.
5 Amazing Benefits of Reading Books
# 1 Reading Improves Brain Connectivity
Let’s start by defining what brain connectivity means. According to Scholarpedia:
Brain connectivity refers to a pattern of anatomical links (“anatomical connectivity”), of statistical dependencies (“functional connectivity”) or of causal interactions (“effective connectivity”) between distinct units within a nervous system.
What you have to understand from this is: a well-connected brain is a healthier brain.
The improved connectivity allows for you to make more connections between ideas and the real word – inspiration, if you will. Like in math when you finally get how an equation works and how to apply it in real-life examples; that’s connectivity.
According to a relatively recent study, the changes caused by reading a novel were observed in the left temporal cortex area of the brain, an area which is responsible for language. The scans revealed heightened connectivity within the subjects brains on the mornings following their reading assignments.
The study concluded that:
At a minimum, we can say that reading stories—especially those with strong narrative arcs—reconfigures brain networks for at least a few days. It shows how stories can stay with us. This may have profound implications for children and the role of reading in shaping their brains.
Reading a good novel allows for your imagination to grow, which can be amazing for you in so many different ways.
Let’s take Elon Musk as an example. The CEO of Tesla and real-life Iron Man, by his own admission, used to spend a healthy chunk of time reading science fiction novels as a teenager. If you ever have wondered how and why Elon Musk keeps on confidently pushing the boundaries of what is possible, I implore you to look in to the books he used to read as a kid and you will get your answer.
Books can have a profound effect on us because they allow us to dream, to think, and to put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes.
This is true for a lot of successful people such as Warren Buffet, who admitted that Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor had a positive impact on him and his life. Or Christopher Columbus, who was inspired by the tales written in Marco Polo’s book to go on a ‘little’ adventure of his own.
All in all, we can say that books can help us bridge the gap between real life and our imagination by strengthening our brain connectivity and forming new connections. This, in itself, is one of the best and mega benefits of reading.
# 2 Reading Builds Knowledge
This one is obvious, right?
Books are full of information, especially if you like to read non-fiction. The amount of effort that goes into writing a book is phenomenal, especially when you are trying to discuss a complex topic or a historical era. It requires a lot of research, scanning and catching all relevant information to your future readers and writing it all in a compelling way.
Once that’s all done, you have a few hundred pages of concentrated information.
As I am writing this, I remember binge-reading Walter Isaacson’s biographies; boy, I am so glad he took the time to write them. I got to read about and understand some of the most successful human beings who walked this earth. Isaacson’s books are filled with details about their successes and failures, which I can imagine took hundreds of hours to gather and compile into a few hundred pages. All so I, the reader, can sit down and enjoy all of it.
The way I see it is, the human mind is a kind of library.
Every time you read a book, you have a direct insight to someone else’s mind, that person is talking directly to you, pitching to you their research, their story, or just recounting a story worth telling. Once you read someone’s work, you have that writer in your brain, archived in your inner library. That’s priceless.
In a way, it makes it that the benefits of reading are endless; you continue to build your inner library, you continue to benefit throughout your life.
# 3 Reading Reduces Stress
This is a fact, reading reduces stress.
The research behind that statement comes from Dr. David Lewis, a neuropsychologist at the University of Sussex. Dr. Lewis found that reading reduces stress by a whopping 68%!
According to Dr. Lewis, reading proved more effective, as a stress-reduction strategy, than walking, having tea or even listening to music!
Psychologists believe that this is due to the fact that the human mind has to concentrate on the task at hand (reading) and that that distraction leads to the easing of tension in the muscles and heart.
Personally, I can vouch that I have experienced this specific benefit without even realizing it. Before I go to bed now, I read for about 1 hour. This helps me fall and stay asleep, whereas I used to watch TV for an hour before bed and had the hardest of times falling and staying asleep.
I Love it!
# 4 Reading Expands your Vocabulary
Reading expands your vocabulary, making you a better speaker, writer, and storyteller.
As I’ve mentioned before, when you pick up a book you’re essentially hanging out with the author, or at least with their mind. They are narrating, talking to you, and teaching you in a way that only a writer can.
There is a common saying that says that “you’re the average of the 5 people that you hang out with the most”. Well, when it comes to your vocabulary or your command of a specific language, your abilities and comfort with the language are a sort of sum of authors you choose to read. Whether it’s vocabulary, expressions or humour, reading expands your vocabulary and your interest in an author’s words makes you bring those words with you, whether you realize it or not.
English is my third language. I am native to Morocco and learned Arabic and French simultaneously as a child. It was only at the age of 13 that I started to learn the fundamentals of the English language, and I had very little practice and until the age of 19. At the age of 19 I could surely not dream of writing even a 100 word essay, on anything. Yeah, that wasn’t a typo. 100 words, people.
Reading books helped me get past that and to be able to write blog posts like this one less than a decade later.
# 5 Reading Makes You Smarter
Yes! This is another scientifically-proven of many benefits of reading. Reading can improve all types of intelligence, being: emotional intelligence (the ability to comprehend and react your own feeling and those of the others); fluid intelligence (your capacity to solve problems); crystallized intelligence (the knowledge you have accumulated).
Furthermore, according to Neurology.org, those who participated in mentally stimulating activities such as reading books, were found to have better memory-retention later in life.
Becoming smarter is an investment for yourself; life is a lot different with a pocket of understanding on different subjects and an elastic mind.
So, how do you read more books?
I know that reading is just something that does not appeal to everyone and it doesn’t have to be that way.
When I was younger, I found it to be dreadful and just unenjoyable. All I kept thinking to myself is, why read when I can be training my Charizard to reach level 70? That baby can take on the Pokémon league on his own, no full restores needed.
Yes, I am a nerd. Get over it.
Here is the thing though, books can be just as fun, all you need to do is find your genre.
I mean it, stop reading books for no other reason than they are on the Oprah Reading Club or the New York Times best seller’s list. If you read books you actually like, it’ll feel less like torture and a waste of time and more like those 5 benefits of reading we went over earlier.