Experts explain why reading is good for your health

A book could be the only prescription you need for better mental and physical health…

Author William Somerset Maugham once noted “to acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life”.

Though he died over 50 years ago, research indicates he was right. During the pandemic, our appetite for books surged.

In a crisis we turn to stories for escape, and science says the benefits of reading goes beyond simple pleasure – it’s good for your health.

Mental health

Research shows a gripping novel can lower stress levels faster than other relaxation methods such as going for a walk or listening to music.

Emotional health Psychotherapists sometimes use books to help clients develop a deeper understanding of what they are working through, but Australian bibliotherapist Lucy Pearson says books can help everybody.

Bibliotherapy “originates from the Greek words for book and healing,” Lucy explains.

benefits of reading

“Literature can help with everything from heartbreak to grief, loneliness or lack of confidence.

Stories of triumph over adversity, personal growth or creative achievements … can inspire readers to pursue their own goals and dreams.”

Heart health & longevity

“A US study found that 30 minutes of reading lowered blood pressure, heart rate and psychological distress as much as doing yoga or experiencing humour,” reports Dr Helena Popovic MBBS, author of Can Adventure Prevent Dementia?.

“A 12-year study of over three thousand adults found that those who read books lived about two years longer than those who didn’t read at all,” says Dr Popovic.

One study found a 23 per cent reduction in mortality if you clock more than 3.5 hours reading every week.

Sleep hygiene

“Engaging with a captivating book can provide a break from the stresses and uncertainties of life,” says Lucy, who recommends making it part of your bedtime ritual.

benefits of reading

“It distracts your mind from the worries and stress of the day, allowing you to unwind and transition into a more relaxed state.”

Cognitive benefits

According to Dr Popovic, MRI scans have revealed that another one of the many benefits of reading is it increases brain connectivity – not just in the moment but up to several days after.

The impact that reading has on the brain is so powerful it’s often recommended as a dementia preventative.

“The more engaging the story, the more areas of the brain that are stimulated,” reports Dr Popovic.

While it’s never too late to benefit, studies have shown that as well as increasing vocabulary, strong early reading skills may mean higher intelligence later in life.

Dr Seuss was right: “The more you read, the more things you will know.”

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