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The Importance of Reading: Why It Matters and Why It’s Healthy

By Martha Michael

Benefits of Reading

You don’t need to quote Shakespeare to be a reader. It may be true that video content is king on the internet, but everyone consumes written content nearly every day, though for some it’s more headlines and street signs than all 14 books in the Outlander series. Reading has benefits, and National Library Card Signup Month is a reminder that joining the ranks of the well-read is within your grasp.

Benefits to Reading

Reading books brings pleasure to many people, but it’s more than just a neutral pastime. The physical and mental benefits can last a lifetime, according to an article on The best reasons to make reading a part of your lifestyle include the following.

It increases your vocabulary - Research shows that reading from a young age broadens your vocabulary, which gives you advantages later in life. A firm grasp of language makes it easier to learn and improves test scores. It also boosts your job prospects. Data collected by educational resources company Cengage shows that soft skills, such as communication, are a top priority for 69 percent of employers.

It builds empathy - Following the plot of a story involves an exploration of the minds of its characters, a skill set that improves your ability to understand and accept the feelings of others. Sometimes called “theory of mind,” people who read fiction tend to develop skills that build and develop essential skills for navigating social relationships.

It improves your brain function - Scientists use MRI brain scans to track activity in a network of cranial circuits when you read. As your ability to read improves, the networks become stronger. In a study in which subjects were instructed to read the book Pompeii, researchers tracked changes to the brain and noticed an increase of connectivity as tension grew in the plotline.

It reduces stress levels - Research on the effects of yoga, humor, and reading on college students in demanding health science programs shows a connection between these practices and lower stress levels. Like individuals who engaged in humor or yoga, subjects who read for 30 minutes had lower blood pressure, heart rate, and psychological distress.

Reading Is Trending

As the school year returns and kids set aside Harry Potter for required reading assignments, many adults continue to be entertained and inspired through book clubs. Famous thinkers from Benjamin Franklin to Oprah Winfrey have formed book clubs, and authors routinely meet to critique each other’s work and provide feedback.

Approximately 5 million Americans are part of at least one group dedicated to discussion about books, says an article on The history of book clubs dates back to Socrates in the fifth century B.C., when people would gather to discuss philosophy, culture, morality, and politics through literature. One of the earliest organized book clubs was established in 1634 by Anne Hutchinson aboard a ship destined for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. She held a discussion session with other women hashing out opinions based on her weekly sermons. Data from a decade ago shows that women make up 70-80 percent of book club members; among females over 65 who enjoy reading, 65 percent are in a club.

However, reading isn’t just for retirees and beach vacations, says an article in Forbes. TikTok has united and energized a base of young adult readers with the creation of BookTok, a platform on the social media app where they comment about and recommend their favorite titles. E-book and audiobook subscription service Scribd released data from a 2021 study of more than 800 million readers and 160 million pieces of content showing the power of BookTok. It’s created a subculture that’s catapulted certain titles and given new life to older books, such as Ice Planet Barbarians, a sci-fi novel published in 2015, and The Song of Achilles from 2011.

“What’s most notable is following an 18 percent decline in reading before any BookTok attention, books highlighted in TikTok saw an average 75 percent spike after promotion on that platform,” Scribd reports. “Notably, It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover enjoyed a 70 percent jump thanks to BookTok, going from -17 percent before promotion to 53 percent to 73 to 141 percent quarter-over-quarter.”

Reading Posture

There are many ways to consume content today: kicking back with a hardback, picking up a Kindle, scrolling on your cell phone -- even listening while you drive. When you’re captivated by a plotline, however, you may not be considering the importance of your physical posture while you read.

As a book lover, you can feel good about contributing to a healthy mind, but it takes awareness to ensure it’s not taking a toll on your physical wellness. Reading is a sedentary activity, so you need to schedule ample exercise to offset hours of sitting. Walking to and from the library or bookstore is one way to cover the bases, and when it’s a family affair you get bonus points by bonding with your kids.

The Penn Book Center blog says there are reading postures that maximize relaxation and productivity:

  • Keep your back straight
  • Keep your spine neutral
  • Prop up your feet
  • Train your eyes straight ahead
  • Adjust your chair
  • Include back support

If you read in bed, there are health considerations such as protecting your eyes from strain. Make sure you have enough light and use a tablet stand if necessary. A reading pillow gives your spine support, which is even more important if you tend to fall asleep. Don’t hold positions that strain your neck or cause you to slouch.

A big reader may finish all nine books in the Bridgerton series while the rest of us prefer the video versions, but the power of the story is evident either way. Whether you love historical fiction or comic books, there are options for everyone’s taste and numerous formats for reading. Getting a library card might be something you did in your youth but it still opens the door to new ideas and provides a platform for learning, which is a healthy asset to modern life.

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