5 Mood and Stress Benefits of Reading
Reading is one of the oldest pastimes around, yet there has been a slow but steady decline in both adolescents and adults over the last decade. (1) This is despite recent innovations such as e-books, Kindle readers and book rental sites. New problems and issues related to this decline such as decreasing test scores and overall school performance, declining college attendance and external skill development (2, 3), as well as the underdevelopment emotional elements like empathy and broad understanding of different cultures and social processes have presented themselves, with no clear solutions as to how they can be fixed in light of technological advancements.
These may seem like very bleak statements, but it is useful in illustrating how beneficial reading can be to literacy-based skills, such as writing and oral language, and literacy-independent skills, such as reasoning, decision-making and even memory. (4) From multiple studies and research, it is clear that the benefits associated with reading are diverse and wide-ranging.
5 Benefits of Reading
1. Reading Can Help Improve Social Skills
A number of studies have shown that book reading, particularly fiction, can improve social skills and communication (5). Apart from the increase in vocabulary and grammar, the increase in social skills also seems to stem from increased understanding and empathy. This has led to a few projects being carried out on book reading for disadvantaged youths or those with social problems.
Reading can have a very significant effect on someone’s emotional intelligence and has benefits beyond simple academic achievements.
2. Reading Can Improve Mood and Help with Stress Management
When looking at forms of stress management that included yoga, Tai chi, music listening and mental training, book reading came out as one of the most effect, even showing to cause a more relaxing effect than listening to music. (6)
This is a particularly substantial benefit as stress and its related negative impacst on health, productivity and quality of life, is becoming quite an issue for a lot of people as life is getting busier.
Book reading can not only increase your productivity by improving learning, it can, at the same time, help with relaxation and managing stress levels. Making book reading an excellent choice for those with a high level of job stress and work commitment.
3. Reading Can Reduce Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease
Along with the increase in social skills and mood, there is also research showing that reading may have profound therapeutic and protective effects on the brain. (7)
There is evidence that increased reading was associated with a decreased incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and, in patients with the disease, helped improved brain function.
Picking up a book may be an essential part of mental health, particularly in older individuals.
4. Reading Can Improve Brain Health and Cognitive Function
In terms of improving mental health, reading may be useful to more than just elderly people looking to prevent mental illness. In one study involving younger individuals, reading was shown to improve brain health and functioning, with readers performing better on a number of tests better than non-readers. (8)
So, it looks like reading can provide benefit to people of all ages and could help improve how well you perform in mental tasks, which could benefit both your performance in work and in everyday life.
5. Reading Can Improve Memory
It could be assumed that people who perform better on tests, whether in school, college or the workplace, are naturally better readers. However, new research is showing that it may be the other way around, with book reading improving memory in students in both verbal and visual based tests. (9)
This is a pretty big deal, as it lends more evidence to the theory that school and subsequent college performance can be improved in anybody, and that reading is a universal tool that can be used to help this improvement, even in unrelated tasks.
Books: The Most Comprehensive Database of Knowledge
There is a greater amount of educational texts like biographies, history and maths textbooks and works of literature than their more electronic counterparts like documentaries, infographics or even eBook forms of the types of books mentioned above.
This offers another advantage to book readers looking for new or unconventional topics to research or just enjoy exploring.
Books vs. TV: Can a TV deliver the same benefits of reading at a faster rate?
The argument that TV can help deliver the same amount of information as books has not held up well over time.
As discussed in the above point, while documentaries and educational programs have provided benefit, there is simply much more content available through traditional books.
In addition to this, studies have shown that TV doesn’t seem to have the same positive effect on intelligence or academic achievement. In fact, the opposite appears to be true, with TV having a detrimental effect on IQ scores and academic achievement, with the more TV that is viewed, the more detrimental the effect, with some TV restriction even showing to improve the scores. (10,11)
Not only is TV-viewing an inferior database of information, it may also be detrimental to learning and academic achievements overall. In this comparison, book reading exits as a clear superior means of learning.
It also seems to have no benefits on stress or mood, with one study showing no positive effects on stress for men and an association with higher stress levels for women. (12)
Overall book reading is a superior activity for both emotional and academic benefits with none of the detrimental effects of TV-viewing.
Books vs. Video Games: Is an interactive medium better than reading?
As book reading has declined over the last decade, video game use has increased substantially. (13) With this increase in popularity comes an increased amount of research looking at video game use and its benefits and potential detriments.
In light of the benefits discussed above on reading, video games has shown to be beneficial in terms of improving both memory and problem solving skills. (14) There has also been research showing how it can be used for stress and anger management. (15)
Considering these points, video games seem to be the closest competitor to book reading in terms of media-based pastimes.
Books vs. Internet Browsing: Is reading online adequate for learning?
One of the biggest criticisms of the more recent studies on reading and its benefits is the exclusion of blog or internet-based articles as ‘reading’. In fact, nearly every study on reading and its benefits includes only hard copy textbooks as either the form of reading examined or the type of material read in studies using reading as a tool for mental health.
Regardless of the lack of research, blogging is becoming the dominant form of both communication and online reading is becoming the most dominant form of reading over the last ten years, both during one’s spare time and while at work (16).
Like traditional forms of reading, online reading has also shown many of the benefits of its hard copy counterpart such as an improvement in learning and memory and an increased adherence in children to read online forms of writing as compared to textbooks. (17,18,19)
The increased motivation by school children to read online forms of writing could be a huge factor in increasing reading as a whole and even continuing the domination of online forms of writing through blogs or social media sites. However, it also calls for further research to ascertain if this form of reading is just as beneficial as traditional methods.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Overall, book reading offers a lot of benefits both specific to reading, such as increased vocabulary, understanding and academic performance, as well as benefits outside of specific reading-based tasks, like increased emotional intelligence, mental health and functioning and memory.
These benefits not only stand up against other popular forms of medium, but also outperform some, such as television, in delivering them.
With the creation of eBooks and the increased content on social media sites and web-based articles, reading is both much more accessible and much more cost-friendly, even being free in most cases online.
This further emphasises a need to start re-introducing reading as a pastime activity and to re-evaluate how much reading we do in our day-to-day lives so we can again begin enjoying the oldest form of learning and entertainment.
When looking for traditional hard copy books, sites such as Amazon and Google Books offer both pricing and book reviews so that each book can be evaluated before being purchased.
If shopping for an electronic version, Amazon is by far the dominant and most comprehensive source of eBooks, again offering reviews by previous users and recommendations for similar books as well as rankings for bestsellers and different genres.
The above sources are easily the best choice when looking to begin reading again and, with new releases being published each week, and more traditional books being converted to eBook format, choices are beginning to become less and less of a barrier.