In an age of information overload, people who don’t read books might be forgiven for asking why they’d want to heap even more pages of content onto the pile, particularly when there are better ways to unwind and chill after a long day.
But before you reach for your headphones to listen to your favourite music, it’s worth noting that a 2009 study carried out at Britain’s University of Sussex found that reading a book is one of the most effective ways to de-stress. In fact, reading for relaxation is more effective than listening to music, drinking a cup of tea, and even going for a walk.
Measuring heart rates and muscle tension, researchers discovered that participants began to relax after just six minutes of reading.
Developing a reading habit has also been shown to keep the mind sharp well into old age, and some research has suggested that reading might even stave off Alzheimer’s disease.
In an article published in the online journal Neurology, a study of 294 people who died at an average age of 89 found that those who engaged regularly in stimulating activities such as reading experienced slower memory decline than those who didn’t exercise their mind.
Even those who picked up reading later in life saw a 32% lower rate of mental decline compared with those with average mental activity, while those who rarely exercised their minds saw a decline in their mental faculties at a rate of 48% faster than the average age group.
The benefits of developing a reading habit are difficult to overstate. On top of the advantages already mentioned, reading can help people to sleep better, it improves language proficiency, increases empathy and compassion, and reading self-help books can help people combat depression, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Picking up a favourite book is also an endless source of joy and, unlike smartphones and tablets, books never have to be charged and are always available to take readers on an adventure to far-off lands where characters await to be met and new worlds are forever ripe for exploration.
As Abraham Lincoln once said, “The things I want to know are in books. My best friend is a man who will get me a book I ain’t read.”
If Lincoln was around today, he would likely find lots of friends in India, where people spend more time reading books than anywhere else in the world. On average, Indians read for 10 hours 42 minutes every week. Americans, on the other hand, spend on average half that amount of time reading books, coming in at 5 hours 42 minutes, according to data from the World Culture Score Index.
The big readers following from India are Thailand (9 hours, 24 minutes), China (8 hours), the Philippines (7 hours, 36 minutes), Egypt (7.5 hours) and the Czech Republic (7 hours, 24 minutes).
Coming in last on the list of 30 nations, South Koreans clocked a paltry 3 hours and 16 minutes with their noses buried in books.
And where is Malaysia on this list? Well, sad to say, we’re still officially at that embarrassing “two books a year” point – that’s from the last National Literacy Survey carried out in 2005. In 2014, a minister mentioned 10 to 12 books but there are no statistics to back that up.
Ahead of World Book Day on April 23, we’d like to get at least some rough stats on how many books Malaysians are reading (and what types of books – is it really true we overwhelmingly read self-help books? Say it isn’t so!) with an informal survey at the star.com.my and star2.com.
Please fill in the survey and help Malaysia get on the worldmap of reading with better figures!