How Much Time You Should Actually Spend Reading Each Day, According To Science
by E. Ce Miller
A beautiful young woman is enjoying reading a book in nature.
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According to a 2014 Time magazine article, Americans read (in their words) “a paltry 19 minutes a day.” (19 minutes is pretty paltry.) The stat comes from a study conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, who also noted that younger Americans, aged 25-34, read just four minutes a day — really, who are you people? — while American adults over 75 read upwards of one hour each day — aka: my peeps.

Now, as a book-lover, I just have to say: the ideal amount of time to spend reading each day is basically all of the time. But, unrealistic is that is, (because: bills, food, laundry) at least as much time as is available; which, I promise you, is more than four minutes, no matter how busy I might be. But, national stats and personal preferences aside, is there actually a science-backed number of minutes you should spend reading each day? After all, we already know reading helps improve memory and cognitive function, increases empathy and reduces stress, can improve social skills, and actually increases not only your intelligence but your learning capacity as well. Chances are, all those benefits aren’t happening in just four minutes.

It turns out, there are some science-backed guidelines for how much you should read every day. And the numbers may surprise you.


It might be only 30 minutes a day.

As part of the University of Michigan’s yearly Health and Retirement Study, researchers examined how many hours per week subjects (over 3,600 men and women, over the age of 50) read each week. Based on their responses, researchers determined that people who spend just 30 minutes reading per day lived an average of two years longer than their peers who didn’t.


But… that’s 30 minutes a day, over several years.

The study was conducted over the course of 24 years, surveying subjects every other year between 1992 and 2016 — so you can’t just read 30 minutes a day every so often and expect it to work. That’s 30 dedicated minutes a day, every day (or, at least, nearly every day) for at least 12 years. Better start stocking that TBR pile now.


And, there’s another caveat: what you read matters.

The benefits of those 30 minutes were only observed in subjects who read fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or literary prose. In fact, the same study also showed that subjects who reported 30 minutes or more of reading a book each day were 23 percent less likely to die between 2001 and 2012 than their peers who read only newspapers or magazines.


The speed at which you read might matter too.

In a 2012 article, Forbes Magazine contributor Brett Nelson quoted a Staples-sponsored speed reading test that demonstrated the average American reader reads 300 words per minute, without sacrificing comprehension. He then broke that number down into various forms of media: newspapers and blogs, magazines, books, and e-mails and texts. Looking at the numbers, Nelson argued that a reader consuming text at the average of 300 words per minute will have to set aside two hours of reading each day, just to take in the daily amount of newspapers, magazines, books, and other written text necessary to be successful (in this case, however, the stats seemed to apply specifically to investors and serial entrepreneurs… so if you’re not employed in one of those two professions, this might not apply to you.)


The rules are also different for young people.

A list of guidelines by the University at Albany recommended that children spend an average of 15-20 minutes reading each day — and that’s above and beyond any reading they might be doing in school. The idea is that it may take children who are learning to read time to build up their bookish stamina (raise your hand if you skipped that step.)


The moral of the story: read every day.

Whether you're reading 30 minutes each day or upwards of two hours, the key is to get some (book) reading in every single day. The benefits are well charted: improving both intelligence and emotional IQ, reducing stress, and allowing readers to, on average, live longer than non-readers. Which means you'll have even more time to spend reading. Sounds like a win/win to me.