UNITED STATES—Reading is not as common as what it used to be due to the different media platforms that are available today. In the 20th century it was far more common to see a child read a book as a source of entertainment unlike today where children and adults alike use a tablet or TV.

Some people say that they enjoy reading but simply don’t have the time, yet these same people manage to squeeze in a television show or two after work in order to relax after a long day.  Indeed life has become faster than what it has been since the early 1900’s preventing people who don’t have the patience to read from reading. The television, internet, etc. are quick fixes for entertainment and it’s not like there aren’t well written shows out there. There are.

What many people don’t realize is the potential benefits reading has for them. In some ways reading can benefit your mind in more ways than just expanding your vocabulary. According to research reading can enhance your ability to empathize.

Research has shown that people who read literary fiction where stories explore the inner lives of characters, have a heightened ability to understand the feelings and beliefs of others. If there is anything we need more in this world is more people who have the ability to empathize well with the common person.

In our hyper-individualistic society we’ve grown apart from each other because we are too busy thinking about ourselves. Empathy can be the first step in helping to make change. One cannot feel sorry for one experiencing homelessness or violence if they hold the attitude that it’s not my problem. According to studies, long-term fiction readers are more developed empaths than ones who don’t read at all.

Reading has also been shown to prevent age-related cognitive decline. According to the National Institute on Aging, reading books and magazines are a way of keeping your mind engaged as we age. Reading hasn’t been shown to prevent detrimental diseases like Alzheimer’s, but research does show that seniors who read and solve math problems every day maintain and improve their cognitive functioning.

It’s said that the earlier you start making reading a habit the better off you are from developing plaques and lesions found the in brains of people with dementia.

Teachers have been saying throughout the ages that reading can help your imagination and many don’t realize how much we should value imagination. It is the basis for just about every invention in the history of humanity. Civilization would not have advanced at all if there weren’t people who came up with a better way of doing things or a completely new and radical idea. We need imagination to grow as a society and reading a book is a great way to develop that.

Your life could even be extended if you pick up the habit of reading. A long-term health and retirement study examined 3,635 adults for a period of 12 years and discovered that those who read books survived around 2 years longer than those who didn’t read. The study concluded that people who read more than 3 and ½ hours every week were 23% more likely to live longer than those who didn’t read at all.

Those who suffer from mental health issues can also reap the benefits of reading daily. Researchers studied the effects of reading and found that many subjects have a measurable impact on depression and other mood disorders. One can get lost in a book and escape for a while to relieve stress.

As a result of this research, the United Kingdom implemented a book prescription program called Reading Well. This program uses what is called “bibliotherapy” which can be used as a way to provide insight to help people navigate life’s issues. Oftentimes people suffering from mental health issues cannot see past their trauma or what is happening in the moment. Reading can help those with mood disorders see the bigger picture and ultimately heal. Literature, both fiction and nonfiction, can help to develop a higher level of awareness and understanding.

Experts advise that not all forms of bibliotherapy are helpful and can be as a matter of fact harmful. There is plenty of negative propaganda out there which can be spread through literature. One must remember that even though there are harmful things written in books you can’t prevent yourself from succumbing to hateful rhetoric if you are not actively challenging what you read in books—and you practice doing that BY READING BOOKS.

Books are easily accessible at your local library, and you can read literally anything to expand your mind. It doesn’t have to be Shakespeare or Chaucer to help you grow intellectually. It can be a magazine or comic book. As a matter of fact, many colleges offer comic books as literature as a course.

There’s plenty books out there for every kind of person so pick one up and start reading. Like the great American writer Ernest Hemingway said, “There is no friend as loyal as a book.”