Dream Big: Read an Entire Book This Month

Find it impossible to read to the end of a book (no matter how great it is)? This easy plan will get you there.

Plopping into a comfy chair with a good book feels like the ultimate luxury—something you get to do on vacations or a rare free Saturday, but never in the middle of a busy workweek. If reading is something you’d like to do more of, this plan will set you up to do just that. And we’ve got some surprising health benefits to share that might even motivate the not-so-bookish among us to start turning some pages. We think once you’ve established a solid reading habit by the end of this month, you won’t stop there. Who knows? You might just be hosting your neighborhood’s first post-pandemic book club!

Week 1: Read 15 Minutes Every Day

The science: Sure, reading helps you relax, exposes you to new perspectives, and gives you an escape. But did you know it might help you live longer, too? Yale University scientists followed more than 3,600 adults over the age of 50 for 12 years to learn whether reading—books in particular—led to better longevity. The results? People (no matter their wealth, health, education, or gender) who reported reading books for 30 minutes a day lived nearly two years longer than those who read magazines or newspapers.

Move-the-Needle Monday: Before you start reaping the benefits of regular reading, you’ll need to select a book to tackle this month. Shake off any pressure to read something that’s “good for you” and select a book you’ll actually enjoy. Browse booklists on GoodReads or Barnes & Noble. Better yet, ask a friend. We did. Meet LaShawn Wiltz, a Decatur, GA-based lifestyle blogger and Instagrammer, who recently launched a book-subscription service called Pouring Over Books. Wiltz herself has already finished 42 books so far in 2021! Being a mom and a business owner means finding small pockets of time to get her reading in—she always has a book with her just in case she gets some unexpected downtime. Wiltz considers reading an important piece of her self-care. “It gives me a way to not have any responsibility. My only responsibility is to find out what happens to the characters in this story,” she says. We asked Wiltz to recommend some of her recent favorite titles:

The plan: This week we’re keeping our reading sessions short and sweet. Find some time during your day to sneak in just 15 minutes with your new book of choice. Try to stick to an everyday schedule instead of skipping a day or two and then ending up with an obligatory 30- to 45-minute cram session. Remember: We’re building a new habit, so try fitting it in at the same time every day.

Top tip: We think a doable length to target for this month’s book selection is around 300 pages—50 pages more or less is fine, but you’ll want to adjust your reading plan to make sure you can finish at month’s end. Tackling a 300-pager means you’ll be reading roughly 75 pages per week to finish by the end of our challenge. You can do this!

Week 2: Read 20 Minutes Every Day

The science: If you’ve selected a fiction title for this month’s book-reading challenge, research suggests doing so might actually make you a more empathetic person. A University of Toronto team asked 166 people a series of personality-assessment questions about themselves and then asked them to read a book. They assigned half of the group Anton Chekhov's The Lady with the Toy Dog, a fictional story of a man who has an affair with a married woman. The other half of the group read a similar story, but this one was a nonfiction report from divorce court.

Once finished, the participants answered the same personality questions they'd answered before the reading segment. The results? Many fiction readers now saw themselves in a different, more-empathetic light after reading about others' fictional experience. The nonfiction readers? Nope.

Move-the-Needle Monday: Now we’re upping our daily reading time to 20 minutes. If you’re reading a 300-page book this month, that means you should have half of it—about 150 pages—completed by the end of this week. Adjust your reading time accordingly (if you’re behind, add another five to 10 minutes in per day or set a page goal to get you there) in order to hit the ultimate goal of book completion by the end of our fourth week of this challenge.

The plan: If you’re having trouble finding spare minutes in your day, it might be time to embrace the early-morning reading session. LaShawn Wiltz, a Decatur, GA-based booklover, lifestyle blogger, Instagrammer, and owner of the book-subscription service Pouring Over Books starts every morning with a book. She wakes when the house is still quiet and no one needs her for anything. “I dedicate 30 minutes every morning to reading,” Wiltz says. “That’s my ‘me time.’” To get into your own morning-time reading groove, try setting your alarm for 20 minutes before you have to get up every day this week.

Top tip: If you’ve got time to scroll, you’ve got time to read! To get a few extra pages in, try this challenge for one entire day this week: Every time you find yourself phone-in-hand hovering your finger over a social media app, before tapping it, grab your book and read two pages, then reward yourself with a little social-media time.

Week 3: Read 25 Minutes Every Day

The science: Take a minute to check in with yourself. Are you seeing any benefits to your well-being since you started reading more this month? For one, reading could be helping you feel less stressed. A University of Sussex study found that reading just six minutes a day can slow down your heart rate and improve overall health, reducing stress up to 68%, according to the World Literacy Foundation. For an extra stress-reliever, add in a couple of minutes focusing on your breath before you settle in for your next chapter. You’ll have a pretty good self-care plan going in no time.

Move-the-Needle Monday: We’re bumping up our daily reading time to 25 minutes this week. In pages, that should take care of about 75 more of your 300-page book. Remember, whatever is left of your book at the end of this weekend is what you have to finish in the fourth and final week of this challenge, so adjust your pages-per-day goal accordingly. It may mean reading a few minutes more or less each day depending on your personal reading pace.

The plan: Try shifting your reading to the afternoons on Saturday and Sunday this weekend. Doing this can help it to feel less like a chore and more like a gift. You may even feel like extending your reading time because it’s so enjoyable. LaShawn Wiltz, a Decatur, GA-based booklover, lifestyle blogger, Instagrammer, and owner of the book-subscription service Pouring Over Books says she usually sets aside a good chunk of her Saturdays for reading. “I take a break from mommy and wife duties and I read. I don’t cook and clean,” Wiltz says. Reading time then becomes a welcome respite from workweek stress for her and it feels luxurious.

Top tip: If your schedule is nonstop (we all have those weeks) and you are struggling to get your reading time in, audiobooks can be your saving grace. Wiltz sometimes checks out the audiobook and hard-copy versions of the same book as a sort of “tag-team” approach to getting through the pages. She may read a chapter or two of the book, then listen to the next chapter in the car or while cleaning the house. You can subscribe to a service like Audible, or check out audiobooks from your local library. There are even some free titles on services like Spotify.

Week 4: Read 30 Minutes Every Day … and Finish Your Book!

The science: Reading is one of the mental-stimulation activities doctors often recommend for keeping our brains sharp and dementia (particularly Alzheimer’s disease) at bay as we age. There’s science to support this idea. Researchers in Hong Kong tracked more than 15,000 dementia-free people over age 65 for five years. At the end of the study, dementia risk was significantly lower in the participants who did some type of intellectual activity every day—examples included playing board games and, wait for it… reading! The benefit was independent of other health issues and lifestyle considerations.

Move-the-Needle Monday: It’s time to finish your book! By the end of this week you will have made your way through an entire book in one month. Give yourself a pat on the back, then keep the one-book-per-month goal going by selecting your next title. If you loved the book you read this month and want something just as satisfying, try plugging in the title at What Should I Read Next? and it will spit out suggestions for your next read based on what you like.

The plan: This week’s daily goal is 30 minutes of reading. If that feels like a big haul, split it up. Read 15 minutes first thing in the morning, then 15 more minutes before bed, or 10 minutes after breakfast, 10 minutes after lunch, and 10 minutes after dinner. However, you choose to get it in, you should finish 75 more pages—the last bit of your 300-page book selection.

Top tip: Congratulations! You did it. As you continue your reading habit, you’re bound to dip into seasons when you lack motivation to crack open a book. Keep in mind, some books just bore you, says LaShawn Wiltz, a Decatur, GA-based booklover, lifestyle blogger, Instagrammer, and owner of the book-subscription service Pouring Over Books. If so, switch to something that will hold your attention. Wiltz, who reads at least 100 books per year, says she often sets books aside when she gets bored or mad at the characters. “People think they’ve got to finish a book even if it’s bad. If it’s really not going well, I will put it away and come back to it,” Wiltz says. Remember: Reading is good for your health, but it’s also supposed to be enjoyable.

Danielle Gamiz
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Danielle Gamiz

Danielle Gamiz is a contributing editor at HealthCentral. She is the assigning editor for the coverage areas of Arthritis & Joints and Caregiving. She also serves as a copy editor across various topics. Danielle enjoys learning from HealthCentral's patient experts and health writers as they educate, inform, and uplift our audience every day.