5 Ways Reading Is Good for Your Mental Health

This image shows a teenager reading a book in the library.

With this year’s Hong Kong Book Fairdue to kick off at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai this month, there’s no better time or opportunity to get enthused about reading. Here, Kwiksure explore some of the ways in which this pursuit encourages empathy and creativity, improves your memory, relieves stress and even helps fight disease to keep one’s mental health in flawless condition.

1. Reading’s a sort of therapy.Those feeling psychologically frazzled by zigzagging between social and professional commitments may be victims of stress brought about by an overly hectic lifestyle. Stress is dangerous, and shouldn’t be underestimated; it can lead to headaches, high blood pressure, skin conditions and even depression. Making time for yourself to relax away from your laptop, phone and even your friends can be an excellent antidote to the detrimental effects of high-pressure environments and packed schedules, and there’s no better way to do that than to read a good book.

Psychologists have suggested that reading is so good at stress relief because the distraction of being taken into an imaginary world eases tension in muscles and the heart. Scientists from the University of Sussex in 2009 found that their test subjects needed to read silently for just six minutes in order to slow their heart rate and ease muscle tension. It seems that losing oneself in a book is the ultimate relaxation, and could do wonders for your health. Find a book that you love, and you’ll be so absorbed in it that you’ll make sure you find time to unplug. The fact that most books are light and portable means you can snatch away some time that you’d usually devote to staring at a screen and get to grips with your book on the bus, in the park on your lunch break, at home on a rainy afternoon or in the bath.

2. Reading hones the art of concentration.In this age of rapid technological advance, information is at our fingertips like never before, and the vast array of social media we have before us encourage an inclination towards brevity, pithiness and shorthand. It’s an oft-suggested truism that as social media like Twitter and WhatsApp become more and more integrated into our lives, our attention spans become shorter; we can access dizzying amounts of information in a fraction of a second and fragmentary communication begins to seem normal. Reading novels rather than instant messages, then, may be the key to improving our concentration over time, as focusing on interlinked plots, recalling past events and focusing on one long text that spans several hundred pages could help us to concentrate better in educational, professional or social environments.

3. Reading can make you confident, and maybe even clever.The sense of progress and achievement you gain when you finish a difficult chapter or discover something for the first time can do wonders for self-esteem. The more genres and styles you try, the more new words you’ll be exposed to, which will find their way into your own vocabulary. And there’s a correlation between habits of daily reading and higher academic and economic achievements. Whether or not you read, and indeed how much and how often you read, may affect your life in a more significant way than you’d first imagine, whatever your social circumstances. Reading is more neurobiologically demanding than processing images or speech. Every sentence you read must be considered, deconstructed and reconstructed by your brain to produce meaning, as it’s forced to infer information based on your own unique experiences. We are forced to produce narrative, and reading lets us do this at our leisure; we can reflect on complex ideas more easily than if we were, say, watching a film or listening to the radio. When reading, we have the opportunity to stop and think about what’s going on in the story.

4. Reading helps fight cognitive decline.A study released in the journal Neurology showed evidence that reading and writing can reduce the rate of cognitive decline for patients with dementia. Staying mentally active through reading is an excellent way to battle decline and keep your brain sharp and nimble throughout life, and it may even promote physical health too by staving off brain disease. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley also found that reading on a daily basis from a young age could inhibit the formation of the amyloid plaques which are found in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers - one study even found that older people who read regularly may be two and a half times less likely to have the disease. With this evidence, it seems that reading could well be as beneficial for the brain as it is for the mind.

5. Reading changes your brain.Learning new vocabulary and keeping track of plot developments improves your mental fitness just like a good workout at the gym helps you to get better physically. Reading boosts your analytical thinking, because as you read new, challenging texts, your ability to detect patterns and predict future developments will get better and better. Amazingly, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania found that the reading process actually changes your brain; the volume of white matter in the language area of the brain generally increases the more people read. Moreover, they found evidence that brain structure can be improved with training, meaning that those who find reading arduous can train their brains to become better readers. All this is great news for book lovers - and it all seems to suggest that chilling out with a good book can actually be a really healthy activity.

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The above information is for reference only. Kwiksure takes no responsibility for the accuracy and timeliness of the information. For the coverage, mode of compensation, benefit limit and premium levels of any specific insurance plan, please refer to the relevant policy terms.