5 Ways Reading Can Change Your Life (and Best Practices)

By Brianna Hansen on June 12, 2019

You've probably heard that reading can be good for you. You may have heard it your whole life. But maybe reading just isn't your thing.

Maybe you enjoy reading, but you have trouble comprehending difficult material from your classes or your workplace.

Good news—this article can help.

Here, we will discuss many of the benefits of reading and real practices you can try today to improve your reading comprehension.

Why is Reading So Beneficial?

You've heard that reading is good, but what about it is so special? Why should you take the time to read? If you've been asking those questions, here are five ways that reading can significantly benefit your life.

1. Reading Helps With Empathy

Empathy is an important character trait people can develop. It helps us relate to other people and encourages us to be kind and considerate of other people's feelings.

As it turns out, reading can actually help improve empathy.

When people read stories about other people's lives, it helps them develop the skills to understand the world through another person's perspective. This is a key element in being empathetic toward others.

One way reading does this is through improving something called "theory of the mind." Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states like beliefs, intents, desires or emotions to others and to understand that other people have different beliefs, intents and desires than our own. When you read literary fiction, you're deepening your understanding of other people's thoughts, emotions and desires.

This understanding can be used in real life to try to understand and relate to other people, no matter what their background is.

2. Reading Reduces Stress and Helps You Sleep

Life can be stressful, especially with busy or challenging work and school schedules. It's hard to escape the feeling of stress and anxiety from a hectic lifestyle. Fortunately, reading can actually help lower stress levels. Not only that, but it can also help you sleep better at night.

According to a study conducted by The University of Sussex, reading can reduce stress levels by up to 68%.

The Telegraph quoted Professor David Lewis, the cognitive neuropsychologist who conducted the study, saying, "It really doesn't matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author's imagination ... the printed page [can] stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness."

Along with reducing stress, reading can help you get a better night's sleep. Many people turn to technology before going to bed, but screens can keep you up at night and cause you to have trouble sleeping. Books, on the other hand, can help you sleep better. Reading helps you relax and can signal your body that it's time to go to sleep.

3. Reading Grows Your Vocabulary

Person looking at a book on their lap while holding a cup of coffee

If you want to have an impressive vocabulary, pick up a book.

It's much easier to learn vocabulary from a book than from simply memorizing words in the dictionary. That's because you're learning the words contextually. The words make sense within the context of what you're reading so it makes it easier to remember later.

4. Reading Can Help Improve Your Mood

It may seem unlikely, but reading can actually make you feel happier. There are a variety of reasons that this is true.

According to researcher Dr. Josie Billington from the Centre of Research into Reading, Literature and Society, "reading reminds people of activities or occupations they once pursued, or knowledge and skills they still possess, helping to restore their sense of having a place and purpose in the world."

As with relieving stress, the transportive nature of reading can also take people away from things that are upsetting or frustrating them in their normal lives.

Not only that, but when we read, we learn that there are other people who are going through similar or equally difficult struggles as our own. It can help us fight feelings of isolation or loneliness.

Historically, reading has been used to help people through difficult times. During WWI, the United States' Library War Service, an initiative that started with the Library of Congress, collected over 700 million reading materials for troops. The belief was that the books could help troops heal from the trauma of war.

The librarians noted that the books did help calm the troops and helped them begin their mental and emotional recoveries. Books and reading have the power to improve your mood and help you deal with difficult circumstances.

5. Reading Strengthens the Brain

Another amazing benefit of reading is it improves your brain!

When you read something it ignites your neural pathways. While reading, your brain must remember facts and details such as characters, plots and subplots. As your brain retains this information, you're creating new memories. That means new synapses are being created, and old ones are being strengthened. This improves your short term and long term memory functions.

Elderly people who do mental exercises like regular reading are 32% less likely to experience mental decline. In fact, a lifetime of reading can decrease a person's chances of developing Alzheimer's.

How to Improve Your Reading Comprehension

Adult male sitting on the floor and reading a book

Reading provides a host of benefits, but what if you have trouble with reading comprehension skills?

A lot of people mistake reading comprehension with retention. Comprehension refers to understanding what you read. Retention is remembering what you read.

However, reading comprehension and retention go hand-in-hand. If you don't understand what you're reading, it's much harder to remember it later.

So what can you do if you're struggling with reading comprehension and want to improve your skills?

9 Tips for Improving Reading Comprehension

If you're struggling with understanding what you're reading or you simply want to improve your comprehension, here are nine tips to help you become a better reader.

1. Read a Text Out Loud

If you're reading something particularly difficult to understand, it sometimes helps to read the text out loud. Hearing the words instead of just reading internally can sometimes trigger a different part of the brain and allow you to connect with the material.

2. Ask Pre-Reading Questions

Before you begin reading a text, ask yourself some pre-reading questions. Some examples of questions you could ask are: What is the topic of the material? What do you already know about the subject? Why is this material important?

You can also scan over the text to get a basic idea of what it's about. You can quickly scan the title, headings and first sentences in the paragraph to get a sense of what the material is referring to.

Once you've done this, your brain is already working with the information. You have a foundation of what the subject is before you begin getting into the details.

3. Stop to Reevaluate What You Just Read

Female sitting against a tree trunk and reading a book

Often when reading a lot of material, especially difficult texts, it's easy for your focus to drift off. You can read an entire page and not really comprehend any of it.

If you've read a section and you're not really sure what you read, go back and read it slowly. Try to summarize what you've read. See if you can pull out the most important ideas and facts from the text.

4. Explain What You've Read to Someone Else

Another great way to understand something you're reading is to explain it to someone else. Putting the information into your own words is a helpful strategy for understanding the material.

If you're able to explain it well to someone else, you probably have a good idea of what you've read.

5. Take Notes

Another good strategy for reading comprehension is to take notes while you're reading. Write down the most important information and focus on the main ideas.

This is similar to the idea of explaining it to another person. It gives your brain another medium to interact with the information and an opportunity to put things into your own words.

This also provides a way to write down questions or words that you don't understand. Any words you don't know you can look up later.

6. Give Yourself a Chance to Understand the Text

Sometimes people get stuck in a cycle of re-reading the same sentence over and over because it doesn't make sense to them. Try to avoid this strategy because you can often decipher the meaning of a section as you continue to read.

The context of the sentence can often give you a much better understanding of the meaning.

7. Use Your Finger or a Pen to Follow Along

If you're struggling to stay focused on a section of material, you can use your finger or a pen to read along. This is an easy way to keep yourself on track and pay attention.

This "Pointer Method" can also help you read faster. If you don't want to use a pen or your pointer finger, you can also use an index card to cover up the part of the text you're not reading yet to stay focused.

8. Read at the Right Pace

You can adjust your reading speed to improve your comprehension. Search for the main idea of the paragraph and read that sentence slowly. Usually, the first or second sentence in the paragraph lets you know what the rest of the paragraph will be talking about.

Knowing how a paragraph is structured can be to your advantage. Look for the main idea and read that sentence more slowly. The follow-up sentences are usually not as important as the topic sentence. Carefully understand the main idea and then you can read more quickly through the details.

If the material is long or technical, you may want to slow down at the beginning and the end of the paragraph to help you understand it.

Remember, both reading too slowly and too quickly can affect your reading comprehension. Don't slow down or speed up too much at any point, but pay careful attention to the main ideas.

9. Take a Break from Reading

If you're reading page after page but not comprehending any part of it, it may be time to take a break.

If the material is an assignment, try to break it up over several days. Some texts are just harder to understand because they're full of words and ideas that you may be unfamiliar with. If this is the case, it can be helpful to give your brain a break to digest the new information.

Go Pick Up a Book Today!

Male reading a book while seated at a table with a cup of coffee

Whether you're doing it for work or for pleasure, reading can be extremely beneficial for your brain, health and general well-being. It can even make you more compassionate toward people around you.

For increased reading comprehension, remember to take your time to understand what you're reading. Give yourself several days to digest difficult material and take breaks when you need to.

If you're feeling stressed about understanding a text, try the tips laid out in this article. The handy user-friendly suggestions can help you tackle that difficult assignment so you can get back to your favorite fiction.

Grow in Reading Skills with a Degree

Lifelong learning often encourages the activity of reading in exploring and gaining knowledge and skills you can apply to your real world. With a degree program at Cornerstone's Professional & Graduate Studies division, you can continue to enhance your reading abilities while being focused on practical application to your work and life. Learn more about how you can grow in your reading skills by checking out our degree programs and connecting with our enrollment team.

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Category: Academic Resources