Why Reading Books Should Be Your Priority, According To Science

Twenty six percent of adults in the United States have not read even a portion of a book within the last year. It’s an unfortunate reality considering that researchers have found that consuming the written word is exceptionally good for people. Here’s what studies have found.

Reading fiction helps you be more open-minded.

It’s because the same brain regions are activated when you experience something in real life as when you get into the heads of characters and imagine walking in their shoes. Researchers have actually found that this practice of seeing the world from the perspectives of others helps people be more empathetic and better understand different ways of thinking.

Reading protects against cognitive decline.

Like most things in life, the adage “use it or lose it” applies to your thinking ability, at least if you believe data sifted from the Victoria Longitudinal Study, a long-term investigation of human aging. When analyzing a sample of 250 middle-aged and older adults who were tested three times over six years researchers found that intellectually engaging activities act as a buffer against cognitive decline. It’s because reading is exercise for your brain.

Reading a paper book is good for your memory, compared with e-books.

Heath writer Maia Szalavitz pulls together input from several reputable sources who believe that it may be harder to remember things presented electronically, compared with on paper. When you hold a book in your hands, you make unconscious associations with where words are on the paper–top or bottom, left or right on the page–as well as how far into the book you are according to how many pages are in your right versus left hand. These landmarks help people remember.

Reading is a habit held by successful people.

Dozens of high-achieving individuals have shared with me their daily habits for success and reading is undeniably a common theme. Want a few recommendations to help you in business? A few titles which repeatedly make executive book lists: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Pat Lencioni, The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

People who read books live longer

That’s according to Yale researchers who studied 3,635 people older than 50 and found that those who read books for 30 minutes daily lived an average of 23 months longer than nonreaders or magazine readers. Apparently, the practice of reading books creates cognitive engagement that improves lots of things, including vocabulary, thinking skills, and concentration. It also can affect empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, the sum of which helps people stay on the planet longer.

Reading 50 books a year is something you can actually accomplish

While about a book a week might sound daunting, it’s probably doable by even the busiest of people. Writer Stephanie Huston says her thinking that she didn’t have enough time turned out to be a lame excuse. Now that she has made a goal to read 50 books in a year, she says that she has traded wasted time on her phone for flipping pages in bed, on trains, during meal breaks, and while waiting in line. Two months into her challenge, she reports having more peace and satisfaction and improved sleep, while learning more than she thought possible.

Successful people are readers

It’s because high achievers are keen on self-improvement. Hundreds of successful executives have shared with me the books that have helped them get where they are today. Need ideas on where to start? Titles that have repeatedly made their lists include: The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz; Shoe Dog by Phil Knight; Good to Great by Jim Collins; and Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson.