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Benefits of Reading and How to Make it a Habit

8 min read

By Katherine George

Medically Reviewed by Patty Weasler, RN
  • Reading is a hobby many people enjoy, whether it’s to wind down before bed, reduce stress and escape reality, or pass time on vacation.
  • Not only does reading reduce stress, it can also enhance our social skills, increase vocabulary and intelligence, and even ease depression.
  • For those who struggle to find the time or desire to read, try listening to audiobooks, re-read old favorites, or make a to-be-read (TBR) list.

Reading is such a good hobby. It provides so many incredible benefits from boosting creativity to making us more empathetic. However, a lot of people struggle to find the time to actually sit down and read. Life is so busy and reading a book from beginning to end is time consuming. So how do we make reading a habit?

There are little practices we can adopt to set ourselves up for success. To learn more about reading and why it is important, here’s a list of the many incredible health benefits that come from reading and how to make it a daily habit. Check it out…

Encourage Empathy

Reading not only makes us smarter, but it also makes us nicer. According to a 2013 study published in the journal Science, people who read fiction that explores the inner lives of characters are able to better understand the feelings and beliefs of others.

This skill is called “theory of mind” by researchers and is essential for building, navigating and maintaining social relationships, says Healthline. This is not something that develops after reading one story. Research has found theory of mind is better developed in long-term fiction readers. Medical News Today expands on this even further by citing a study reported by MNT which found that individuals who read fiction also score higher on tests of empathy than those who read nonfiction.

Build Vocabulary

Not surprisingly, reading is a great way to help build up a person’s vocabulary. Researchers coined “the Matthew effect” back in the 1960s to describe this. According to Healthline, it refers to the biblical verse Matthew 13:12 which reads: “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

The Matthew effect basically states that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer which is a concept that also applies to vocabulary. Research shows that students who read more regularly, especially those who start at a young age, gradually develop large vocabularies. “Vocabulary size can influence many areas of your life, from scores on standardized tests to college admissions and job opportunities,” writes Healthline.

Reduce Stress

There are many small practices we can do to help alleviate stress on a regular basis, and one of the easiest is to sit down and open a book. Reading helps reduce stress by allowing us to escape and take our mind off the challenges of everyday life, says Alice Williams, MD, a New Mexico-based physician when talking to Everyday Health. When we’re lost in a good book, our body begins to relax and breathing goes down. This leads to a decrease in our heart rate and blood pressure, all of which promotes overall feelings of well-being, explains Williams.

In fact, reading is much more beneficial than watching TV because we have to invent the visuals ourselves which can be used “as a coping skill or mechanism to deal with any unpleasant emotions or thoughts,” says Holly Schiff, PsyD, a Connecticut-based licensed clinical psychologist for Jewish Family Services of Greenwich to the same source. There’s a lot of research to back this up. Everyday Health refers to one study in particular which found that even 30-minutes of reading was effective in decreasing acute stress. 

Strengthens the Brain and Makes us Smarter

We already mentioned that reading more will increase a person’s vocabulary which by nature also leads to greater intelligence. Medical News Today points out that the stronger the reading skills, the more intelligent a person is. The source cites a 2014 study which found that children with better reading skills by even the age of 7 scored higher on IQ tests than those who weren’t as good.

“Children who don’t receive enough assistance in learning to read may also be missing out on the important, intelligence-boosting properties of literacy,” writes Medical News Today. Give your brain the mental workout it craves by cracking open a book and reading!

Improve Sleep

Something we’re all craving a little more of in life is sleep. Most people would probably admit they are lacking in this department. They might also admit they’re guilty of checking their smartphones before bed or at bedtime. This can wreak havoc on sleep.

A study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine found that using a smartphone before bed not only shortens sleep duration, but affects the quality of sleep we get. “This is primarily because the light emitted from the devices reduces production of melatonin in the brain – a hormone that tells us when to sleep,” writes Medical News Today.

A better bedtime activity is to read a book. The Mayo Clinic suggests creating a bedtime routine that incorporates reading. This can “promote better sleep by easing the transition between wakefulness and drowsiness.”

Prevent Mental Decline

We all know reading plays an important role in development for children, but did you know it can also have great effects for older adults too? According to Everyday Health, research suggests activities like reading may slow down cognitive decline with age.

“Reading is a cognitive activity that works your brain and prevents memory loss,” says Schiff to the source. “Reading is a mentally stimulating activity that increases the flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the brain. It can also help delay cognitive decline and impairment and is associated with better cognitive function.”

It could also play a role in preventing age-related dementia. Schiff explains to Everyday Health that it may prevent beta-amyloid deposits from developing on the brain which are a characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. “Mental stimulation can also slow Alzheimer’s progression as keeping the brain active is thought to build reserves of healthy brain cells and connections between them,” she says. “By building this brain reserve, it can help compensate for the damage caused by Alzheimer’s, and because the brain is able to compensate and continue to function, the onset of dementia may be delayed.”

Ease Depression

One of the trademark symptoms of people with depression is that they feel isolated and alone. Similar to its ability to reduce stress by distracting us from reality, books can offer some companionship in times of loneliness. Reading fiction allows people to transport themselves into another world and be swept away into the imaginary lives of these characters. Non-fiction books like self-help books can help teach us things like how to better manage the symptoms of depression.

Healthline explains that the United Kingdom’s National Health Service began a program called Reading Well for this exact reason. As part of this program, medical experts can prescribe self-help books curated by other medical experts to assist with certain conditions.

Promotes a Long and Happy Life

The ultimate goal for us all is to live a long and happy life. While aging is inevitable, there are things we can do to help make the journey a little more enjoyable! In addition to eating healthy and regular exercise, reading is another way we can extend our life expectancy.

The cognitive benefits of reading may help us live longer. Everyday Health refers to one study which found that book readers had a 23-month longer lifespan average than people who didn’t read. While reading certainly isn’t a replacement for eating healthy or regular exercise, when pooling all the benefits we’ve talked about thus far together, it can certainly play a big role allowing us to live a longer and more fulfilling life, says the source.

Tip: Use Audiobooks

Some people love the idea of sitting down in a quiet space and reading a book. Being able to physically turn the pages and just the act of reading itself is what calms them down. However, for others, reading on a phone, device, or listening to an audiobook will suffice.

Audiobooks are a great way to incorporate books into daily life, especially for people who are busy. If you struggle with finding time during the day to sit down and read, try listening to a book. This way books can come along during a commute to work, while walking the dog, or cooking dinner. There are lots of services like Audible that are available for listening to books.

Tip: Lean into Your Interests

Reading is not a chore. It’s something we do for enjoyment which is why it’s important to pick books that are interesting. There are millions of books to choose from, all ranging in different topics and genres. Choose one that aligns with your interests.

If the book you’re reading is about something that interests you, you’re more likely to finish the book. It’ll also help ignite that desire to read. Life is short and we’re all busy, don’t force yourself to finish a book that is boring or uninteresting. Swap it out for something you’ll actually enjoy.

If you’re unsure what book to read, think of what TV shows you like to watch. That might help steer you in the right direction. Are you interested in fantasy or science fiction? Do you like romantic comedies or more educational documentaries? There is a book for everyone, it’s just about finding the right one.

Tip: Re-Read Old Favorites

Similar to reading books that align with your interests, don’t be ashamed to re-read old favorites. Vox talked to Allison Escoto, the head librarian and education director at the Center for Fiction in Brooklyn who says reading books you’ve already read and enjoyed is a great way to reignite a love for storytelling.

“If the science is right, then recreating that sustained attention is really what you’re after, at least as much as the stories themselves,” writes Vox. Reading is like any other hobby. You need to put in practice and work to get back into the groove of it. But once that happens, the results can be very rewarding.

Tip: Make a TBR List

While reading is most certainly a productive use of time, especially considering all the benefits it provides. Regardless, some people might feel like unless they’re reading something “important” it’s not worth their time. To encourage productivity and motivation, make a ‘to be read’ (TBR) list. It provides something to look forward to and encourages a feeling of accomplishment when you’re able to strike a book off a TBR list.

To make it more fun and interactive, create a list on Goodreads and record books you’ve read, want to read, or have already read. Invite friends to join in on the fun. Not only to share books but create a little competitive element. It also helps hold us accountable.


Patty is a freelance health writer and nurse (BSN, CCRN). She has worked as a critical care nurse for over 10 years and loves educating people about their health. When she's not working, Patty enjoys any outdoor activity that she can do with her husband and three kids.

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