Mental Health

Why books are vital for your mental health

There’s an old adage that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, and research has proven that a healthy diet can lessen the chances of heart attacks, diabetes, and even cancer. But did you know that a book a day can help your mental health?

Note: there are quite a lot of links in this post because I wanted to a) provide citation for my article, and b) allow readers to do their own research

A study by Mindlab International at the University of Sussex proved that reading can reduce your stress levels by 68%. This is higher than other relaxing pursuits such as listening to music, going for a walk or settling down with a cup of tea, and is believed to be because reading both requires concentration and distraction – by reading, you’re getting away from your life for an hour and “living” someone else’s. I don’t think, given the current political climate, there any surprise that 2018 has seen a 5% increase in sales of novels over last year.

As reading lowers your stress levels, you relax more and this can aim a good night’s sleep. The Mental Health Foundation issued a report into why sleep matters for both mental and physical health, while Mayo Clinic believes that creating a bedtime routine which includes reading a few chapters from a book will help you sleep better. I should point out that if you’re reading in bed, then a physical book is better than an e-reader as the bright screen of the device will stimulate your brain and keep you awake longer.

Reading can also be a form of therapy – by empathising with a character, you can relate to their problems and so figure out a way to deal with your own. Seeing characters that you care about going through something difficult can bring up your past and unresolved conflicts, which can be triggering – and why labelling is so important – but it can also be an outlet for your emotions.

Engaging in reading (and other hobbies) for one or more hours every day might be protective against dementia in late life according to the NCBI. People who are actively mentally engaged have 32% lower rate of mental decline when compared to those who aren’t. This is likely connected to the fact that reading exercises and enhances the memory muscles in your brain.

Reading, especially lighter novels such as romance and romantic comedy, also activates the pleasure centres of your brain, which boosts your “happy chemicals” all of which go a long way to improving your mental health. The University of Liverpool have conducted a study on how reading increases your happiness and satisfaction.

So grab that tattered copy of your favourite novel and dive into the pages. Your brain will thank you.

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