How Could Reading Help YOU?

By Heather Procter, Librarian 

What can a book do? It turns out, quite a lot! 

Waking up your brain…

Using MRI Scans, research has confirmed that reading involves complex circuits and signals in your brain. As you get better at reading, these get stronger (Houston, 2014). Scans in another study showed that, both during the time you are reading and, in the days following, brain connectivity increased. (Berns, 2013). The earlier you start reading regularly, the more you will benefit in the long run. Research hasn’t concluded if activities like reading can reduce the risk of diseases such as Alzeimers, however, one study discovered that people who had engaged with mentally stimulating activities, such as reading or maths puzzles all their lives, were less likely to develop some of the physical brain changes associated with dementia (Wilson, 2013).

In a nutshell, reading can physically change what your brain is doing and ‘wake up’ your brain, for the better! 

Lowering stress levels…

Many mental health conditions can be (partially or wholly) triggered by stress. Stress can lead to scary physical changes – raised blood pressure, raised heart rate, weight gain/loss and more. The good news, however, is that these physical changes can be lessened by reading! The University of Sussex conducted their famous study on this in 2009. They compared reading a book to other ‘relaxing’ activities, such as taking a walk, listening to music, or having a cup of tea. They found that reading was the best way actively to lower heart rate and stress levels overall (by 68%, specifically), and the best part, is that it took a mere six minutes of reading to achieve this! 

We aren’t saying that reading will rid you of stress forever, but sitting down and immersing yourself in a book can be a tool to help you manage your stress levels and perhaps contribute to larger positive changes to your overall mental health. 

Escape and Relate…

Reading can help you to feel less lonely. It can also help you be a nicer person. Bold statements? Keep reading…

Part of some mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety can leave you feeling incredibly lonely. Even when surrounded by people, if you’re suffering, you can feel a disconnect from your friends, family and society in general. 

A book doesn’t require you to try and explain your feelings (though if possible, it’s very important to find someone who you can talk about your feelings and experiences with), but if you engage in a story, and the character is going through similar scenarios and emotions as you, it can help your brain bridge that disconnected feeling mentally, and start to make you feel linked to the world again, by reminding you that you aren’t alone.