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How Can Reading Improve Your Health and Wellbeing?

Reading a good book can be a wonderful way of escaping reality and entering an entirely new world full of magic and possibilities. We’ve been enjoying this hobby for centuries and whilst screen time might have diluted the enthusiasm for some, it is still a pastime that is going strong.

For any bookworms out there, there’s fantastic news – reading is not only a lovely thing to enjoy, it is also great for your overall health and wellbeing. An article by Medical News Today explains how it can lower stress, improve sleep, slow cognitive decline, enhance social skills and boost intelligence.

Lowers stress levels

According to Stress.org, stress is said to contribute to about 60% of all human disease and illness. As such, we should seek to lower stress levels wherever possible. Of course, the nature of everyday life means that it’s near impossible to eliminate stress entirely, but we can certainly put things in place to stop it from becoming a serious health issue. One approach is reading.

A study, by the University of Sussex, found that reading could reduce stress levels by as much as 68% – coming ahead of going for a walk and listening to music. Study co-author Dr David Lewis and colleagues found that people who took part in as little as 6 minutes reading experienced a slowed heart rate and reduced muscle tension. Dr Lewis said:

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“It doesn’t really matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book, you can escape the worries and stresses of the everyday world […] This is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination, as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness”

Improves sleep

A fairly modern habit that we have all developed is browsing on our smart phone or tablet before we go to sleep. Unfortunately research has confirmed that this does not do any good for our sleep!

Just one example found that the light emitted from the device reduces the production of melatonin in the brain – a hormone that tells us when to sleep. This leads to shorter sleep durations and less quality sleep.

Linked with the point made above about stress, HSL’s independent Occupational Therapist, Julie Jennings Dip COT HCPC, says that:

“If your body doesn’t get enough sleep it can react by producing an elevated level of stress hormones, resulting in higher incidents of depression and anxiety, plus other mental and emotional problems. Sleep helps to reduce stress by encouraging deep breathing and lowering heart rate.”

What do we think would be better to “switch the brain off”? Reading, of course. The Mayo Clinic suggests that creating a bedtime ritual – such as reading a book, can “promote better sleep by easing the transition between wakefulness and drowsiness”

Slows cognitive decline

Do you find that your memory seems to diminish as the years pass by? Simple things like remembering a name or address becomes more and more challenging.

Whilst this is a natural process in the brain’s lifecycle, there are many studies that have cited reading as being able slow down cognitive decline. Some even suggest that it can decrease the chances of developing Alzheimer’s.

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A study from Rush University Medical Centre found that reading, and other forms of mentally stimulating activities, help slow down dementia. Over the course of many years they studied participants, asking them to complete memory and thinking puzzles. They also asked them details of their upbringing and later life.

They found that those who engaged in reading, writing etc. were less likely to show physical evidence of dementia – such as brain lesions, plaques and tangles.

Enhances social skills

When we read, we escape the real world and transport ourselves to a place where we are all encompassed in our own space. Some might argue that this could decrease our social skills as we are not interacting with “real people”.

However, a 2013 study published in the ‘Science’ journal suggests otherwise. They found that people who read fiction have a better “theory of mind”. This means that they are more able to comprehend others people’s desires, thoughts and beliefs. When we are able to do this it helps us with the way we understand the outside world, and of course, gives us more to talk about with them.

Boosts intelligence

American author and illustrator, Dr. Seuss famously wrote:

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

There have been many studies which look at the correlation between reading and intelligence. One of these was published in the ‘Child Development’ journal in 2014 and found that children with better reading skills by the age of 7 had higher scores on IQ tests than those with weaker skills.

Reading has been shown to help with fluid intelligence (the ability to reason and solve problems) as well as emotional intelligence – meaning you make smarter decisions about yourself and those around you.

Reading Good For Your Wellbeing

No matter the reason you choose to read, or what genre appeals to you, it’s great to be safe in the knowledge that your hobby is boosting your emotional and physical wellbeing.