We’ve all said it: I wish I read more, but I just don’t have the time. Or perhaps when you do sit down, the passive glow of the TV and your cell phone overrides your commitment to cracking a book. There’s nothing wrong with these activities — sometimes your brain needs a break at the end of a long day. But it turns out that trading TV time for reading (even a little bit) has a lot of health benefits — and it’s not as hard as you might think. Here’s what you need to know about the advantages of reading, plus how to make hitting the books a habit.
Why is reading good for me?
You probably already know that reading books is good for you; reading can help you learn new things, cultivate your imagination, and strengthen your focus. But those benefits are only the tip of the iceberg. Here are four more unexpected pros.
Reading fights Alzheimer’s and dementia. As we age and experience hormonal changes like menopause, memory can start to decline. Reading can help to slow that decline. A 2013 study found that those who read regularly in their adult life slowed the onset of age-related memory loss and dementia by 32 percent. Another study reported that the more participants engaged in reading from ages 20-60, the less likely they were to develop Alzheimer’s, proving that anytime is the right time to start reading (and gain reading’s brain benefits).
It lowers blood pressure. Whether your high blood pressure is a result of stress or genetics, keeping it in check helps to protect against a myriad of health troubles. Good news: Cracking a book fights tension. A study by New Jersey scientists found that reading for 30 minutes “significantly decreased blood pressure” and “acute stress.” Another study from the UK determined that reading lowered participants’ stress levels by 68 percent, which was more effective than going for a walk, drinking tea, or listening to music. In this study, neuropsychologist Dr. David Lewis reported that “subjects only needed to read silently for six minutes to slow down the heart rate and ease tension in the muscles.” That means you don’t need to read for long to feel better!
It improves sleep patterns. A good night’s sleep can make a big difference in how you feel. Studies show that many women, especially those experiencing menopause, have trouble falling asleep, which can cause stress, depression, and anxiety. But reading before bed can help you catch those elusive Zs. A Brazilian study showed that bedtime reading calmed racing thoughts, helping participants fall asleep, and a randomized trial conducted in the UK reported that those who read in bed experienced better sleep quality than those who didn’t read in bed. So, if you can’t sleep, pick up a book — just make sure you put a bookmark in it before drifting off.
It boosts overall wellbeing. Reading can help you live a better, longer life. The Reading Agency reports that reading helps develop empathy and combat loneliness, which contributes to feeling happier and more connected to others. It also claims that readers are better at handling hardships and have higher self-esteem. A study from Yale even claimed that readers live an average of four months longer than non-readers. I don’t know about you, but that’s enough to make me head straight for the library.
How can I read more?
With so many benefits, reading more is a smart goal. But because reading requires focus, time, and quiet, making a habit of it can be difficult. To help, here are some tips to get you reading more and enjoying the process.
Listen up. Susie Dumond of BookRiot.com says audiobooks count as reading. The best part about audiobooks is that you can listen while you’re doing chores, exercising, commuting, and cooking.
Don’t finish what you don’t like. John Rampton from Inc.com recommends quitting if you’re not enjoying a book. Powering through something you don’t like turns reading into a chore instead of a pleasure.
Try poetry. McKenzie Jean-Philippe from Oprah Daily suggests mixing some poetry into your reading routine. It can be a welcome break from reading novels, and it’s usually shorter. Plus, it could inspire you to see things in a new way. Check out the Poetry Foundation for free poetry and poetry guides.
Mix up genres. Read outside of your comfort zone, recommends Dumond. Your next favorite book might be in a genre you’ve never tried before, and expanding your horizons is an easy, low-stakes way to learn more about your preferences.
Form a book club. Rampton notes that reading a book with a group is good for accountability, and adds a fun, social element. Sharing your insights and hearing others’ reactions to a book deepens the experience and makes reading a more communal act.
Indulge your interests. “There’s no such thing as a ‘guilty pleasure’ book,” says Jean-Philippe. Read what you like, and don’t worry about others’ opinions. Books are like vegetables: As long as you’re consuming them, you’re reaping their benefits.
Create a reading nook. Dumond suggests that creating a cozy space with all your creature comforts within arm’s reach can motivate you to read more. Find a spot in your home where you can be comfortable without distractions.
Where do I get started?
Jean-Philippe recommends checking out curated “bests” lists, like The New York Times Best Sellers or the “Best Books of 2022” from GoodReads. These books are vetted for quality and popular for a reason, so you know they’re at least worth checking out. She also recommends following some “bookstagram” accounts on Instagram — these are social media influencers who read, review, and recommend books, often in interactive, cute, and aesthetically-pleasing posts and videos. Check out the hashtag #bookstagram and find someone who shares your interests.
Where can I find books for free?
Your local library is always a great resource, but the free reading materials don’t stop there. It turns out that there are several places you can go to find a book for free. Tons of health benefits, a fun hobby, and no cost? Talk about a win-win…win.
Libby. This free app (available online, in the App Store for iOS, or on Google Play for Android) uses your library card to connect you to your local library’s selection of eBooks and audiobooks. It’s quicker than making a stop at the physical library, and you can read or listen right on your phone or e-reader. Plus, there are no late fees, because your digital books are automatically returned on their due date.
YouTube. The free platform has a surprising number of audiobooks. Search “audiobook full length” to browse the selection.
Open Library. This website functions a bit like a library in that you can “borrow” eBooks, but you don’t need a library membership; just a free account on the website. It is constantly expanding too, since users are allowed to add eBooks.
Project Gutenberg. This free resource boasts over 60,000 free eBooks. Unlike other resources, you don’t need to register or download anything to gain access.
Find a book (or three) you think you’ll enjoy, and let it transport you. And if you’re a slow starter, don’t feel too bad about having some unread books on your shelf — it’s never too late to dig in and become a bonafide book worm.