11 Benefits of Reading That Will Convince You to Pick Up a Book Today
Need a reason to open a book? Science shows the benefits of reading go beyond fun—and can lead to a happier, healthier life.
While the avid readers among us may be working their way through the best books of all time or devouring each of our most anticipated books of the year, most Americans don’t have their noses stuck in a novel. And that’s a shame, because there are so many benefits of reading.
Why is reading important? Studies have shown that a regular reading habit not only sharpens vocabulary but also reduces the brain’s rate of decline in old age and expands “EQ” (aka emotional intelligence) and well-being.
The good news is that it’s never too late to adopt a reading habit that’ll enrich your life and teach you how to be smarter. With regular reading, you can increase your IQ—and then level up by learning how to read faster.
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The benefits of reading
We read for fun, and we read to learn, but while entertainment and education are the most obvious benefits of opening a book, they’re just the tip of the iceberg. “Reading has countless benefits, starting from birth [and lasting] through adulthood,” says Judy Newman, chief impact officer at Scholastic.
Below, she and psychotherapist Diana Anson, LCSW, director of the Insight Therapy Solutions internal staff wellness program, discuss the many perks of making reading your newest hobby.
1. It gives your brain a workout
Want to challenge your mind? Crack open a book. A study published in the August 2023 issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports linked reading with better thinking skills in kids.
“The more you read, the better your brain works,” explains Anson. “Even problem-solving becomes easier as you develop the ability to see problems from different angles. … Reading is to the mind what the gym is to the body—only without the sweaty gym clothes.”
Ultimately, reading challenges your brain more than watching TV or playing video games. That’s because reading connects “parts of the brain that have evolved for other functions—such as vision, language and associative learning,” Ken Pugh, PhD, president and director of research of Yale’s Haskins Laboratories, said in an interview with Oprah magazine.
2. It might help keep your brain young
Digging into a good book can literally take years off your mind, according to a 2013 study published in Neurology. Researchers found that regular “cognitive activity” such as reading can help slow mental decline associated with aging.
A 2018 study also found a clear relationship between reading books and mental prowess in adulthood. Published in Frontiers in Psychology, the 15-year study suggested that reading books (but not magazines!) improved memory and verbal fluency regardless of age.
So if you’re worried about your ability to remember things, this is your cue to sign up for a library card—and use it. This is one of the reading benefits you don’t want to miss out on.
3. It melts away stress
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If you’ve ever been swept up in a story, you’re probably aware of the stress-reducing effect, one of the most immediate benefits of reading books.
She points to a 2009 study at the University of Sussex, which found that even six minutes of daily reading can reduce stress levels by 68%. “Other studies have shown that regular readers report better sleep, less stress, higher self-esteem and lower rates of depression than non-readers,” she adds.
4. It boosts your vocabulary
Even if it’s been decades since you had to worry about the SATs, you can still use both novels and nonfiction books to expand your mental dictionary. Case in point: A study published in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research found that students with above-average reading levels also had above-average vocabulary knowledge. In fact, researchers estimate that we learn 5% to 15% of all the words we know through reading, according to a Scholastic report.
Continuously learning new words is a great skill for game shows and trivia competitions, but it’s also a surefire way to improve your communication skills and boost your reading speed.
5. It boosts mental wellness
Reading supports mental wellness, says Newman, and it’s not hard to understand why. Who hasn’t finished a feel-good book and, well, felt better? Great stories can transport us to a happier place on tough days. But even less-rosy tales have a place: Well-rounded characters with relatable struggles help us feel less alone.
Teens who report reading often also report having better mental health, according to Scholastic’s Kids & Family Reading Report. Other results that show the benefits of reading: 30% of infrequent readers reported feeling lonely compared with just 19% of frequent readers.
“A love of reading can be a powerful tool in supporting mental health, including boosting self-esteem, increasing empathy and mitigating anxiety and depression,” says Newman.
6. It develops empathy
“Numerous studies have shown that readers of fiction books tend to empathize better with others,” says Anson. “Reading about an experience allows a person to feel the same feelings as someone actually going through that experience.”
Stepping into someone else’s perspective can be life-changing. Immersive reading builds an understanding of how people around you might think or feel, which can change how you react to others. Guessing—with accuracy!—what other humans might be thinking or feeling is kind of like a secret superpower, says Anson. It can certainly help you become a better friend and leader.
7. It’s a great motivator
Have you ever finished a great book and felt inspired by what you read? Maybe it’s a YA book that follows a main character’s growth from a shy wallflower to a confident heroine. It could be that a protagonist’s romantic mishaps shine a light on fixes for your own relationship miscommunications. Or that a self-help book‘s story of a brave request for a promotion motivates you to schedule a meeting with your boss.
Compelling books may motivate readers of all ages, but Newman says there’s proof that reading actually leads to higher achievement at school. “According to the Scholastic Home Libraries white paper, just 21 minutes a day of reading outside of school results in higher scores on reading achievement tests,” she reports.
8. It helps you sleep better
Sure, sometimes nail-biting true-crime books keep you up at night. And many a book lover has succumbed to the allure of “just one more chapter,” only to continue straight through to the end. But one of the surprising benefits of reading is that books can help you sleep better.
“Turning off electronic screens and settling into a book before bedtime can improve sleep quality,” says Anson. “The soft glow of the bedside lamp replaces the harsh blue light of devices, signaling your brain that it’s time to wind down.”
Of course, this benefit applies only to physical books. Research published in the journal Sleep Medicine shows that the light from e-readers and tablets can cut into your hours of quality shut-eye.
9. It could give your workout more staying power
Like the latest single from Taylor Swift or a binge-worthy Netflix show, books make great company during a workout. But have you ever considered that one of the benefits of reading a page-turner is that it keeps your mind occupied for longer while your body sweats it out?
Next time you hit the treadmill or elliptical, take a great thriller or mystery with you. Fast-paced fiction can occupy your mind and drive you to finish just another chapter before ending your workout for the day.
10. It builds community
“Reading is a solitary act that can build community,” says Anson. Think about it: Even if you read a book alone, you can share the experience and your opinions of the story with anyone else who has read the same book. Reading leads to book clubs and bedtime stories, fan fiction and forums. Join a group like, say, the Reader’s Digest book club, and you don’t just get book chats and recommendations; you get a community of like-minded individuals.
Plus, reading can be a great way to bond with the little ones in your life. Newman says Scholastic’s research found that 92% of parents and their children think reading aloud is a special way to spend time together.
11. It helps you learn new things
Want to learn something new every day? Open a book—any book. “Reading helps kids understand the world around them,” says Newman. “The majority of parents … believe reading fiction and nonfiction is important for their child.”
It’s true: Almost any book can teach you new things. Great travel books can teach you about new languages and cultures. Even beach reads can teach you a thing or two about communication and relationships. Anson calls “how-to” books the original Google and says reading nonfiction is “like having a conversation with the world’s experts without them interrupting you to check their phones.”
How often do you have to read to reap the benefits?
Unfortunately, there’s no magic answer to exactly how often you need to pick up a book to experience the benefits of reading. It’s more about reading regularly than clocking a certain number of minutes per day.
“Try to plan three to four times a week when you can read with minimal disruptions,” suggests Anson.
It sounds obvious, but Newman suggests that one of the keys to reading more often is enjoying the activity. So if you’re struggling to find time to read three or four times a week, try getting pickier about your reading material. Is the biography on your nightstand boring you? It may not be a matter of learning how to focus properly. Just try a different book—maybe historical fiction or an easy, breezy rom-com.
“Each reading moment, when it creates a sense of ‘book joy,’ leads to the next, and together they build a frequent reader,” says Newman.
About the experts
- Diana Anson, LCSW, is an experienced psychotherapist and director of the Insight Therapy Solutions internal staff wellness program. She was a professor of psychology at the College of Southern Nevada for 30 years.
- Judy Newman is a literacy advocate and the chief impact officer at Scholastic. She previously served as the President of Scholastic Book Clubs, the company’s school-based book distribution channel.
- Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports: “Effects of 2-year dietary and physical activity intervention on cognition in children—a nonrandomized controlled trial”
- Oprah: “Watch This. No. Read It!”
- Neurology: “Life-span cognitive activity, neuropathologic burden, and cognitive aging”
- Frontiers in Psychology: “Reading Habits Among Older Adults in Relation to Level and 15-Year Changes in Verbal Fluency and Episodic Recall”
- Scholastic: “10 Research-Tested Ways to Build Children’s Vocabulary”
- Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research: “The Influence of Reading on Vocabulary Growth: A Case for a Matthew Effect”
- Scholastic: “Kids & Family Reading Report”
- Scholastic: “Home Libraries”
- Sleep Medicine: “Associations between screen time and sleep duration are primarily driven by portable electronic devices: evidence from a population-based study of U.S. children ages 0–17”