Getting stuck into a good book can do more than just spark your imagination and expand your vocabulary. It seems it may also improve your health and wellbeing in a number of ways.
A 2009 study1 found that reading for as little as six minutes can reduce stress by up to 68 percent. It worked better and faster than some other relaxation methods, such as listening to music or having a hot cup of tea. This may be because your mind is distracted by the story and not focusing on the daily stresses in your life.
‘It really doesn't matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world,’ said study author and cognitive neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis.
Reading may also keep your mind sharp and slow the progress of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Dementia. A study by Rush University Medical Centre found that adults who spent their downtime doing creative or intellectual activities like reading had a 32 percent slower rate of cognitive decline later in life.
‘You, your children, your parents and your grandparents can all stay mentally sharp by participating in activities such as reading and writing every day,’ said Robert Wilson, PhD, the lead author of the study and neuropsychologist at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center.
And if you’d like a raise or are thinking about starting a new challenge, reading a book where the character does just that may help. Ohio State University researchers found that when people lose themselves in the world of a fictional character, they adjust their behaviour and thoughts to match those of the character. So reading about someone who overcame obstacles may motivate you to achieve your own goals. The study suggested that the more you identify with a character and experience events as if they were happening to you, the more likely you’ll be to take action.
This connection may go beyond inspiration—identifying with a character in a book can also improve your empathy skills and provide the opportunity for social connection, even if our relationships with the characters aren’t real.
‘Obviously, you can’t hold a book’s hand, and a book isn’t going to dry your tears when you’re sad,” said Shira Gabriel, psychologist at University at Buffalo. Yet reading helps us form human connections to characters, in a similar way we connect to other people in our life.
How to lose yourself in a great book:
It doesn’t matter what you read—the important thing is that you’re interested in the subject matter and the book will allow you to relax and escape the every day.
If reading the news upsets you or makes you angry, it won’t help you relax. Choose something you enjoy, whether it’s a fantasy novel, a gardening book or cookbook.
Reading aloud to your children or grandchildren is a wonderful treat and may inspire a love of reading, as well as providing the health benefits of a good book.
 Lewis, D. (2009), Galaxy Stress Research, Mindlab International, Sussex University, UK