By Parinaz Samimi
You may never read a book again after college.
If this sounds like a relief, you’re not alone: 42% of college graduates never pick up a book again after finishing school. Reading a novel for simple pleasure falls by the wayside in the deluge of modern life; turning on the TV and turning off the brain is an unconscious decision for an increasing segment of the population.
If you’re still reading this, good for you — literally. The benefits of reading, whether you’re still in college or not, can affect everything from your social life to your professional aspirations to your personal health. To a student buried under piles of books and required texts, the thought of reading just for the sake of reading might seem crazy, but here are just seven ways that keeping up with words can give you an edge over the 42-percenters:
- Brain Connectivity Let’s get the science out of the way first: in a study led by Dr. Gregory S. Berns of the Emory University Center for Neuropolicy, brain connectivity improvement caused by reading was registered in the left temporal cortex, an area associated with receptivity for language. “The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,” says Dr. Berns. “The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes improves theory of mind.”
- Focus, Concentration and Memory
Internet surfing, Slack chatting, IRL interaction — all daily multitasking that splits your attention, ups your stress and stunts productivity. Logging off and reading a book for just 15-20 minutes before class or work can sharpen your focus, and the concentration needed to fully submerse yourself in a novel is an invaluable skill to retain. Likewise, keeping track of literary characters, plotlines and backgrounds strengthens memory muscles, as every new memory created forges new synapses and bolsters existing ones.
- Analytical Skills
If you’ve read a mystery novel and solved the crime before finishing the book, you’ve exercised some diagnostic finesse that you probably didn’t even know you had (and we’ll get to fancy words like “diagnostic” and “finesse” in a moment). Analytical skills in visualizing, articulating, conceptualizing or problem-solving by making sound decisions based on available information can be reinforced through reading. According to Stanford University’s Joshua Landy, you can even gain “a new set of methods for becoming a better maker of arguments.”
The more words you read, the more words you’ll know — if you weren’t familiar with the terms “diagnostic” and “finesse” a paragraph ago, you are now (if you looked them up, that is). Being articulate and well-spoken is an inestimable trait to possess, be it in the classroom, a job interview or even the most innocuous of social locus. Of course, not every situation calls for the overly ornate verbiage of these illustrative sentences, but they’re useful to have at the tip of your tongue. Or brain, if you will.
Want to be a better writer? Read better writers. Or even the worse ones, as cautionary examples of what to avoid. Ideally, though, you’ll gravitate toward worthy authors who will inspire you to write out your own ideas — or borrow some of theirs. (Every writer and artist does it, just be sure to revise and expand, not simply mimic.) There are many ways to spur creative thinking, but when it comes to writing, reading the style and cadence of an entertaining novelist is one of the ultimate inspirations.
- Knowledge and New Interests
Gaining new knowledge from reading is kind of a given, right? Even reading the same book over again can reveal new angles and aspects you might not have caught the first time. New knowledge can also lead to new interests and hobbies: you might never have thought of picking up a musical instrument before you read that Jimi Hendrix biography, or considered becoming an economist before digging into “The Wealth of Nations.” And some hobbies can make you smarter, thus feeding your brain even more than reading alone.
- Relaxation and Sleep
The most immediate, and arguably most valuable benefits of reading are decompressing, de-stressing and simply relaxing — even the most intense thriller is a calming reprieve from a long day of classes or hours at work. Quality relaxation lowers cortisol levels, which leads to quality sleep. You’ll want to stick with fiction, as non-fiction (such as business or current events books) tends to switch your brain into active mode, while a story can turn off the part of the brain that’s overly critical. Lesson: at bedtime, turn off Stephen Colbert and pick up Stephen King.
Reading makes your life, and your brain, better — it’s also free and easy, the magic words for any college student. There’s no downside to reading every day: don’t view it as an obligation and you’ll never fall out of one of the healthiest habits a person can have.
Parinaz Samimi is a certified yoga instructor and sleep and wellness expert. She is passionate about sharing her experiences to help inspire and empower others to cultivate happiness, health, and productivity. Having both a Masters in Public Health and one in Business Administration, she has taken great interest in sleep and well-being—specifically their relationship with and correlation to health and productivity. In her free time, she can be found traveling, exploring the outdoors, and enjoying a good book over a glass of Malbec.