Americans read fewer books than ever, but you can stand out from the crowd (and reap big benefits) by creating a regular reading habit. This is why reading is important.
As the avid readers among us eagerly clamber through our recently released summer reading list and our most anticipated books of 2022, most Americans haven’t stuck their noses in a book. And that’s a shame. Why is reading important? Studies have shown that a regular reading habit not only sharpens vocabulary and improves IQ, but also reduces brain decline in old age and increases ‘EQ’: emotional intelligence and well-being.
These are all good reasons to teach children reading habits early and nurture them well into adulthood. But according to a recent Gallup study, reading is declining. American adults read an average of 12.6 books (in whole or in part) in the past year, less than any year since the company began asking the question in 1990. Perhaps most striking, however, is the fact that the decline is greater in groups that historically, among the largest readers were college graduates, women, and older Americans.
Positive news: While the number of books Americans read has been on the decline, the survey found that the percentage of American adults who read has remained stable since 2002. If you don’t count yourself in that group, don’t worry. It’s never too late to adopt a reading habit that will broaden your mind and enrich your life. Whether you’re diligently working your way through the best books of all time or taking just 20 minutes a day to read the latest best-selling mystery novel, the benefits of being one of America’s bookworms are limitless.
Why is reading important?
The simple act of reading has a lasting effect on the brain. And no, we’re not talking about the way you might think about the characters of your favorite historical fiction novel long after you’ve turned the last page.
Reading actually changes your brain. In a small study published in Brain ConnectivityEmory University researchers asked participants to read the novel Pompeii by Robert Harris, who brings a historical setting to life. Every evening they read part of the book and every morning they arrived at the research center for a brain scan. During the nine days they spent reading and the five days after that, the part of their brains associated with language showed increased connectivity.
That is expected. We know that reading improves IQ and vocabulary. But here’s where it gets interesting: Those same scans showed increased activity in a part of the brain responsible for physical sensation. In short, as the researchers write, “reading a novel is likely to put the reader in the body of the protagonist.”
Yes, reading can make your body think you’ve actually been to Pompeii – or one of the thousands of countries available in the literature.
But the benefits of reading every day go beyond that. Opening a book can improve your mental and physical health.
Improving Mental Health
Reading is correlated with reduced stress, and a report published in the journal Science found that it can increase empathy. Books put you in the minds of fictional people, and that can help you better understand the minds of real people.
Maryanne Wolf, director of the UCLA Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners and Social Justice and author of: Reader, come home: the reading brain in a digital world, says that’s especially true if you’re reading print books. She distinguishes between the kind of skim reading that naturally occurs when we use digital versus print media.
“In immersive reading, we transition from our point of view to the perspective of others,” she says. “That takes milliseconds in the brain, but it gives us the wonderful potential to leave our little silos to enter others, leading to empathy. That’s short-circuited by skimming.”
Keeping the mind sharp
Why is reading important as we get older? According to a study published in Neurologyit can lead to healthier cognitive function in old age and even prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
“The brain is an organ, just like any other organ in the body. It’s outdated in regards to how it’s used,” said Robert P. Friedland, author of a study investigating the link between intellectual hobbies, such as reading and solving puzzles, and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. USA today. “Just as physical activity strengthens the heart, muscles and bones, intellectual activity strengthens the brain against disease.”
Helps you live longer
Best of all, you don’t have to spend whole days reading to reap the benefits. In a 2016 study, researchers found that people who read an average of 30 minutes a day (about 20 pages or a few chapters) lived longer. In fact, bookworms had a 20% lower risk of premature death after 12 years than non-readers.
How many books does the average American read?
Americans now read fewer books than in the past, with the main downward trend among those previously counted as the most avid readers: adults 55 and older, college graduates, and women.
Between 2002 and 2016, women read on average nearly twice as many books a year as men (19.3 versus 10.8). In the 2021 study, those numbers dropped to 15.7 books per year for women and 9.5 per year for men.
Graduates – the biggest bookworms of those surveyed – used to read an average of 21.1 books a year. Now they report that they read an average of only 14.6 books a year.
Overall, the 2021 survey shows that younger people (18 to 34 years old) read the most of all age groups. That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Younger generations practically live on social media platforms like TikTok, which have known literary trends to take flight. The platform is one of the reasons Colleen Hoover’s books on the New York Times weeks of bestseller list and dark academic books are in the spotlight.
Considering that Americans generally read about 12.6 books a year, you don’t need to read the entire library of books to beat the average. Going through two books a month can help you get ahead of the pack and take advantage of those amazing IQ and vocabulary boosting benefits, plus all the other benefits that come with reading.
How can you read more books?
If you want to join the bookworms who benefit from frequent reading, you’re in luck. It’s not hard to do.
But before you try to block a reading habit, make sure you can answer this important question: Why is reading important? From broadening your perspective (for example, by diving into autobiographies of people whose lives are different from yours or reading a book about racism) to sharpening your mind (as with non-fiction books that educate and entertain), the benefits can fill a list of pages. Plus, reading is just plain fun, and there’s nothing wrong with choosing a book for the fun of it.
Being aware of the benefits of reading will inspire you to start an exercise and stick to it. There are easy ways to incorporate healthy and voracious reading habits into your life, such as making sure you read at least 30 minutes before bed.
There are a few more tricks to building a reading habit, including deep reading and choosing a book that makes you happy.
While reading a Kindle Unlimited book or listening to audiobooks on your subway ride to work can be an easy on-the-go solution, experts recommend grabbing a physical book and taking the time to get deeply involved. get the most out of your daily reading experience. with it.
“Audiobooks play a very important role — they help people — but they neither ask nor allow a deeper scrutiny of understanding,” Wolf says. “Same with the screen. You don’t keep track of what you’ve just read or heard, and you miss things.”
This doesn’t mean you have to carry a copy of War and peace on your commute; you can put a short book in your bag for your trip to work. But regardless of the book, the point is to engage in deep reading, Wolf’s term for a form of close reading that requires engagement, reasoning, and reflection. So skip the skimming, because that won’t give you the kind of reading comprehension you need to develop reading circuits in the mind.
“The second big disadvantage of skimming is that you don’t spend time on critical analysis,” says Wolf. “You get the gist, but you don’t get the full density or complexity of arguments. You are not looking for the truth.”
How can you cultivate this practice and reap the benefits for yourself? One technique is known as RIDA: read, imagine the scene, describe it to yourself and add more mental detail by noting images or passages that move you.
Or try this handy trick: listen to the audiobook and read along from the printed book at the same time. By doing this, your senses are focused on the reading and you are completely immersed in the story.
Reading for fun
Admittedly, getting into the habit of reading (again) can be difficult, both for newcomers to the hobby and former bookworms. Even Wolf has noticed that her ability to read is greatly atrophy with disuse. When she returned to an old favorite, Herman Hesse’s The glass bead, she found she could barely get through the prose. “My system wasn’t willing to slow down enough to really struggle with that novel,” she says.
Determined to regain her understanding, she set aside 20 minutes each night and told herself, “Just give those 20 minutes your full attention. Here’s a magic word: full attention,” she says. “And then I started to return to the reader that I was. It took me two weeks to slow myself down. I had to retrain my brain.”
Taking the time to get your brain out of internet reading mode is key. “It’s all about taking time and giving it time, otherwise your brain will go into screen mode and you’ll really stop enjoying reading the way you used to,” Wolf says. “Who is going to read so much if the fun they don’t realize is gone is missing?”
Another tip: If you find yourself having trouble sticking to a book, consider what you’re reading.
Maybe you’ve picked up a dense classic novel but don’t really enjoy it. Intellectual fiction is great, but if it gets you reading again, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with reaching for a book that promises pure entertainment. So go ahead and pick a reading pleasure, be it a novel, a beach read, or a juicy vampire book.
Start your reading journey