Reading is to the mind as exercise is to the body: we know it’s good for us, but…

“We lose ourselves in things we love. We find ourselves there, too.” Kristin Martz

Reading is to the mind as exercise and healthy food is to the body: we know it’s good for us but we just don’t make time.

In Australia we read for just over six hours per week outside of work, slightly below the global average of 6.5 hours per week. These hours include reading newspapers, magazines and books.

Nothing wrong with newspapers and magazines but I want to make the case for reading more books.

This is my big fear. As a white-collar worker bee I spend my working days reading and analysing words and numbers. At the end of the day my brain is fried. Once I leave the office I am supposed to work out, go shopping, cook healthy meals, actively maintain friendships and be an engaging and attentive partner, parent and family member.

Average hours spent reading per week


I am not long out of university. I studied for quite a while and enjoyed the intellectual freedom of spending countless hours exploring many academic disciplines and actively built up a complex sociological, philosophical, economic and psychological worldview.

But I now I am afraid I will get stuck in my university level thinking and reading.

How do I upgrade my knowledge base and world view in this post-university phase of my life? Sure, I learn a lot on the job and my employer provides generous training and up-skilling opportunities. This is great, but is it enough for my personal development?

No matter how well intended or high quality, employer provided training is it not enough. Am I willing as an individual to outsource the development and formation of my worldview and personality completely to my employer?

All my colleagues are taking the same training courses so how can I set myself intellectually apart? How can I think more creatively?

Having an intellectually homogenous workforce doesn’t help either. A more intellectually and culturally diverse workforce is much better suited to tackle the challenges of an ever changing, fast paced work environment. Intellectual diversity breeds intellectual conflict. If managed correctly such conflict sparks new ideas, new service offerings and shifts paradigms.

An ode to randomness

It doesn’t matter much what you read as reading is a constant act of intellectual emancipation. We read to advance our thinking and we read for the sheer joy of it. Reading shapes your character, is playful and exploratory while you follow your interests free from a fixed agenda. A book on musical history awakens an interest in post-Napoleon Europe which leads you to read modern day organisational theory before diving into popular fiction.

I hear the devil’s advocate say, “I get that reading is important but how can I make time for it in my busy world? Also, I have a hefty mortgage, three kids and a tendency to spend heavily on food and wine. I can’t possibly spend $30 on a book.”

No need to worry. The best things in life are free.

Audiobooks are a great way to consume books while commuting, exercising or cleaning. These days your local library offers free audiobooks through smart phone apps like BorrowBox or OverDrive. Free. Absolutely free. On volunteers (all professional quality readers) record books whose copyright protection has run out. Again, librivox audiobooks are completely free and can be downloaded comfortably on your smart phone.

If you struggle to kick-start a reading habit, simply commit to a small daily page minimum. Eight daily pages will let you finish 12 books of 250 pages each year.

eBook apps on your phone allow you to spend those spare moments on the tram, in front of the microwave or waiting for someone. Precious reading time that would have otherwise been spent on Candy Crush or some other time killing app. As proof of concept I recently read the whole of Moby Dick solely in those unexpected breaks.

Personally I simultaneously read an audiobook, an e-book and an old fashioned paper book. All different genres and mediums, so I always have something to read that fits my mood.

So let’s begin to do something which is actually good for us. Just a little each day will make us a much more interesting and productive person by year’s end.

3 March is celebrated in many countries as World Book Day

Simon Kuestenmacher is a demographer in Melbourne where he runs the KPMG Bookclub. He loves chatting about books, maps and data in person and on twitter (@simongerman600)


13 thoughts on “Reading is to the mind as exercise is to the body: we know it’s good for us, but…

  1. Love the article. Audiobooks are perfect for driving and plane trips, paperback for chilling at home and ebooks for public transport.

  2. Great article Simon. I didn’t know about the KPMG book club, but what a great idea. How do I join. In my experience book clubs encourage you to read more widely and more often, and sometimes to consume more wine & cheese.

    1. Simon Kuestenmacher

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      Congratulations Simon, you’ve just joined. I have you on the mailing list and will put up a posting on the Hub soon to announce the date and time for the next book club.

  3. Janine Carruthers

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    Simon you are awesome! Great article my friend. We are starting a book club in People and Change – reach out and join us if you are interested!

    1. Simon Kuestenmacher

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      There is a People and Change book club? I love it! Sign me up! Let me know what the first book will be. If you cannot decide on a book “Immunity to change” by Lisa Lahey and Robert Kegan will be right down your alley 🙂

    1. Simon Kuestenmacher

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      We run the book club from the Melbourne office but can lync interested participants in. Being in the room as it’s obvious advantages as wine and cheese are being served…

    2. Simon Kuestenmacher

      - Edit


      We run the book club from the Melbourne office but can lync interested participants in. Being in the room has it’s obvious advantages as wine and cheese are being served…

  4. Such a great article Simon. I’ve just started university again after a break so your reflection on the post-university slump really resonates with me. The KPMG book club actually inspired me to start reading again, so I’m making my way through a ‘Top 100 books of all time’ list to see what the big deal is all about, and Moby Dick is definitely on there! Thanks for sharing

    1. Simon Kuestenmacher

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      Big respect for studying, working and reading at the same time. I am sure this kind of triple intellectual education will manifest itself in wonderful ways! is it the Guardian 100 book list you are working through?

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