The Benefits of Reading: How to Improve Your Mental and Physical Wellbeing

Reading is a hobby that we’ve been enjoying for centuries; allowing us to escape reality and enter a new dimension of magic and possibilities. Although the rise of technology may have diluted the enthusiasm for some, what’s not changed is the plethora of benefits reading holds for our physical and mental wellbeing.

Research from Oxford University Press has found that reading books with “challenging language” sends “rocket boosters” to our brains, which consequently boosts our mental health. Another study found that reading for just six minutes a day can help to reduce stress levels and said that reading is more calming than going for a walk, listening to music or even drinking a cup of tea!

To help you out, we’ve put together a list of the benefits of reading books. From enhancing your mental health to improving your physical wellbeing, discover why reading is important right here.

How can reading improve sleeping habits?

One habit that many of us are surely guilty of, is scrolling on our smart phones or tablet before we sleep. Unfortunately, research has confirmed that the blue light emitted from these devices reduces the production of melatonin in the brain – a hormone that controls our sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm). This leads to shorter sleep durations and a lower quality of sleep.

If you like to use an e-reader before going to sleep, try to find one that is specifically set up to not emit blue light, like the Kindle Paperwhite. Other models may have a setting you can use to adjust the blue light.

Our 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.”

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”.

Reading For Wellbeing

Can reading reduce stress levels?

Yes – it can! According to stress.org, stress is said to contribute to about 60% of all human disease and illness. The nature of everyday life means it’s nearly impossible to eliminate stress entirely, but we can seek to lower stress levels wherever possible. Reading is one way to do this.

A 2009 study from the University of Sussex found that reading could reduce stress levels by as much as 68% – making it a more stress-relieving activity than going for a walk or listening to music. Dr David Lewis (study co-author) and colleagues found that those that took part in as little as 6 minutes reading experienced a slower heart rate and reduced muscle tension.

“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”.
– Dr Lewis

Does reading improve memory?

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

A study from Rush University Medical Centre found that reading – alongside other forms of mentally stimulating activities – helped slow down dementia. Over the course of many years, they asked participants to complete memory and thinking puzzles, and gathered details of their upbringing and later life. They found that those who engaged in reading and writing were less likely to show physical evidence of dementia – such as brain lesions, plaques, and tangles.

Reading can improve your memory because it’s a brain stimulating activity that requires the constant recall of words and meaning. It can improve both short and long-term memory, and it helps your brain to process information both visually and verbally more effectively.

Reading For Wellbeing

What does reading do to the brain?

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.”

A study published in the ‘Child Development’ journal in 2014 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 also 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.

Diving into a good book will often expose you to new vocabulary – especially for children. This is why children who read more usually perform better on general tests of intelligence; by learning new things through understanding new vocabulary.

How does reading improve focus and concentration?

Although it’s brought many benefits to the world we know today, it could be argued that technology has led to us being lazier. Nowadays, everything is available almost instantly and we expect so many things to be effortless. This has quickly reduced our need to problem solve and concentrate to get what we want.

In many ways modern technology can lower our productivity and attention span – which is why making time to read is so important. Researchers have found that reading stimulates the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain that affects concentration and attention) and reading for 30 minutes a day can help improve your focus, attention span and memory.

When you pay attention to every fine detail as you read, you force the applicable brain connections to be active for uninterrupted periods. This is the same skill needed to study. Equally, when you read you have to give the content of the book your full attention to understand it, which is why regular reading practice strengthens your concentration abilities.

And that’s our guide on the benefits of reading! We hope that it inspires you to pick up a new book and to put aside at least 5 minutes each day to focus on your wellbeing.

At HSL, your comfort and wellbeing mean a lot to us. This is why our chairs, sofas and beds have been designed and approved by our expert Occupational Therapist Julie Jennings Dip COT HCPC. Visit one of our stores or arrange a free home visit to find out how we can help you.

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