Whether for entertainment or ongoing education, books are widely recognized to have numerous benefits for the reader.
But while students are required to read books and other texts as part of their curriculum, the reading rate tends to drop dramatically for those who have graduated or otherwise moved on.
In fact, Pew Research Center surveys show that 26 percent of adult Americans don’t read even a portion of a book every year.
So, how often should you read a book?
After examining the cognitive benefits of reading print, most researchers have concluded that everyone should aim for at least 30 minutes of daily reading from a book.
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Numerous studies have shown that reading books provides both cognitive (mental) and social benefits.
While researchers from the University of Sussex in England found that even just six minutes of book reading for just six minutes can reduce stress levels by 68%, longer reading times may have greater effects.
Reading for a minimum of 30 minutes daily has been shown to reduce stress, improve both verbal and reading (text) comprehension, and enhance problem-solving skills.
Book readers, on average, also demonstrate better vocabulary knowledge and may be able to learn new skills and concepts more readily.
Researchers from Emory University found that reading may have direct physical effects on the brain.
Using MRIs, they discovered that reading a narrative, in particular, increases the connective pathways between neurons, which could result in enhanced comprehension and thinking skills.
The study was done using adult participants who all read the same novel, for 30 minutes at a time every day.
In a different study involving children, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University found that reading resulted in increased white matter in the brain (areas of axons that directly affect learning and communication between brain cells).
There may be health benefits to reading books that go beyond mental prowess. A Yale University School of Public Health analysis of over 3,600 adults over age 50 found that those who read books at least 3 1/2 hours a week (or 30 minutes daily) lived an average of two years longer than those who did not.
In another study of adults over age 65, those who dedicated hours every week to “intellectual activities” like reading books were found to be at a decreased risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers concluded that starting to read regularly even later in life was enough to help improve brain health.
While reading in general is thought to have positive physiological results, the book genre can play a role in the specific effects.
For example, fiction has been shown to increase the reader’s working memory and capacity for empathy.
Nonfiction has likewise been shown to help improve vocabulary and learning capacity but without enhanced empathy or socio-cultural understanding.
Fiction also helps decrease stress levels more so than nonfiction, but this may depend largely on the specific subject matter involved.
Reading about current events, for instance, may provoke stress while reading about pet care or nature subjects may help decrease it.
The rise of eBooks and digital text on smartphones has prompted widespread debate over how it compares to traditional print.
While some positive reading effects have been observed in those who read primarily in digital book formats, numerous studies have shown that print promotes better retention.
One group of researchers in France found that people who read a book in print performed better when asked about the narrative’s chronology in comparison to those who had read it in an eBook.
The results held true no matter how long people took to read the book.
The science that recommends at least 30 minutes of daily reading time specifically refers to books.
In comparison, reading magazines and/or online articles has not been found to increase neural pathways or enhance empathy.
Some research has indicated that daily intake of “popular” media can actually increase stress levels.
Listening to recordings of books has been shown to help some listeners retain information better, but the opposite has been found for others.
Additionally, it’s unclear if listening to books can have the same kinds of cognitive benefits as traditional reading.
Limited research has been done in this area compared to visual reading mediums.
Thirty minutes of daily reading is the minimum needed for most people to experience mental and physical benefits.
So far, no study has conclusively proven that more than 30 minutes will lead to more benefits.
However, key findings in most studies are that reading benefits come from frequency (i.e. reading a little each day) more so than quantity in one session.
From both a mental and physical standpoint, there is such a thing as reading too often. Reading too much information at once can decrease the number of details that are retained, however.
Likewise, sitting for over an hour at a time during the day can lead to weight gain, decreased energy levels, and a variety of increased cardiovascular health risks.
The average adult is reported to take around 2.8 hours to read 100 pages of text. This translates to around 300 words a minute, though the exact numbers will vary depending on reading comprehension level and skill.
That said, the amount of time it takes to complete reading an entire book depends on the length and difficulty of the book itself.
Different people will have an easier time completing certain books than others. The subject matter is key, as the reader will have a more challenging time reading a book they are not actively engaged in and will be less likely to reap the mental and physical benefits of doing so.
Book readers span all demographics around the world. However, the same Pew Research Center studies that showed a quarter of American adults don’t read any books also revealed some interesting demographic information.
Americans with an annual household income of under $30,000 were less likely to be book readers than those with an annual household income of $75,000 or more.
Lower education levels were also associated with non-book reading (primarily those with less than a high school diploma).
Adults who were aged 50 and older also reported reading less than those who were younger.
The average person works between 30 and 40 hours a week, with many exceeding far beyond that.
Many people hold other weekly responsibilities in addition to work, including childcare and household chores.
According to one study conducted by tax service H&R Block, the average person has just 4 hours and 26 minutes of spare time a week.
With this in mind, it can be challenging to make time for reading. However, it can be done by adding book time to the daily schedule.
And with the benefits of reading vs. viewing screens in mind, books can also take the place of watching TV at the end of the day, at least once a week to start.