Reading was among the most popular ways that people managed their stress levels during the pandemic, according to our research.

Our 2021 Public Perceptions Survey found that 43% of people in the UK found reading helped ease their stress levels during the third national lockdown last year.

Our member Hansa Pankhania says there are a number of reasons why reading can be good for the mind, body and soul.

“You may underestimate the benefits of reading,” she says. “It can enrich and change your life in ways you’d never imagine.

“Reading benefits your physical, mental and spiritual health, and those benefits can last a lifetime.

“They begin in early childhood and continue through our senior years. That’s why it’s never too late to begin taking advantage of the benefits waiting for you in the pages of a good book.”

Reduces stress

The results of our 2021 Public Perceptions Survey illustrate that people use reading to manage their stress levels.

And Hansa pointed to research carried out in 2009 which measured the effects of yoga, humour, and reading on the stress levels of students in health science programs in America.

“The study found that 30 minutes of reading lowered blood pressure, heart rate, and feelings of psychological distress just as effectively as yoga and humour did,” says Hansa.

Improves mental health

One of the key benefits of reading, says Hansa, is that it can improve our mental health.

“Just like any other muscle in the body, the brain requires exercise to keep it strong and healthy,” says Hansa, who has written 10 wellbeing books for adults and children.

As well as helping you relax, she says, reading can bring about inner peace and tranquility.

“Reading books on spiritual topics can lower blood pressure and bring about a sense of calm,” she adds. “Reading self-help books has been shown to help people suffering from certain mood disorders and mild mental illnesses.”

Eases symptoms of depression

People with depression often feel isolated and estranged, says Hansa.

“That’s a feeling books can sometimes lessen," she says.

“Reading fiction can allow you to temporarily escape your own world and become swept up in the imagined experiences of the characters, while non-fiction self-help books can teach you strategies that may help you manage symptoms.”

Improves memory and focus

We can be easily distracted by work, family and screens which can cause stress levels to rise and affect our ability to focus.

“When you read a book, your attention is focused on the story and you can immerse yourself in the fine details,” says Hansa.

“Reading involves a complex network of circuits and signals in the brain. As your reading ability matures, those networks get stronger and more sophisticated.

“Every new memory you create forges new synapses, or brain pathways, and strengthens existing ones, which assists in short-term memory recall as well as stabilising moods.”

Night-time routine

Reading as part of a night-time routine can help with sleep. It also helps people who lead busy lives to make reading part of their day.

“For best results, you may want to choose a print book rather than reading on a screen since the light emitted by your device could keep you awake and lead to other unwanted health outcomes,” says Hansa.

Other benefits

Hansa says that other benefits of reading include better writing skills, strengthened analytical skills, and increased knowledge.

“Pick up that book that’s been lying on your shelf gathering dust, settle down, get comfortable, open it, start reading and begin your journey to a more enriched life,” she says.