The importance of reading for mental health

The importance of reading for mental health

16 April 2021

Reading is an activity most of us do on a daily basis. It is essential not only for finding out information but for connecting with other people.

In our busy lives, we are becoming less likely to read for enjoyment. With World Book Day fast approaching on 23 April, now is a good time to reflect on the benefits of reading.

Rather than quickly reading the latest news, taking the time to read for pleasure can help with our mental wellbeing and reduce stress. Let us dive deeper into more benefits:

Continual learning 
Reading can reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Expanding our vocabulary through reading, as well as using our imagination and memory, can have a positive impact on the cognitive decline we might experience as we get older. Researchers in Hong Kong found reading reduced the risk of cognitive decline independent of other lifestyle factors, and reduced memory decline by more than 30% compared to other forms of mental activity.

Improved social cues 
Reading can also help us to develop empathy and improve our social intelligence. Understanding the points of view of others as expressed in literature can assist us in developing empathy which can help our relationships in the real world, allowing us to connect more deeply with those around us.

Achieving mindfulness
Reading is a very mindful activity. It requires us to be completely present to follow the story or plot. This is a skill we can develop over time. Being mindful whilst reading is a good way of practising general mindfulness, which can help to reduce our overall stress.

Better sleep
Reading can also help you to prepare for a good night’s sleep. Reading at the end of the day is a healthy alternative to scrolling through electronics. Avoiding blue screens helps our body to better respond to our natural sleep rhythms.

Stronger relationships
Connection with family and better relationships can be formed when families read together. Children love being read to and will more likely enjoy reading if they see others around them enjoying it. Reading to your children also allows for increased connection and gives opportunity to talk about problem solving, as well as increases curiosity about other’s experiences as well. Researchers have found that readers are the “best people to fall in love with” and studies in 2006 and 2009 indicate that those who read fiction are capable of the most empathy and the ability to hold opinions, beliefs, and interests apart from their own. This can help in the development and maintenance of effective interpersonal relationships, and additionally make positive connections with those around you.

What kind of reading is good for me?
The answer to that is anything that interests you. Whether it is fiction, non-fiction, factual or any kind of book you can get your hands on, it needs to be something you will enjoy. Public libraries are a great way to access a wide range of reading material without spending any money. Around your suburb, there may also be a street library which allows you to take a book and swap it for one of your own. If reading really is not your thing, public libraries also have great collections of e-books or audio books, so you can read anywhere. No matter how you decide to do it, it is fantastic that you have gotten started. 

If you would like to find out more ways that can assist you in managing your psychological health, please call Mates4Mates on 1300 4 62 837 to book an appointment with one of our psychologists. 

Written by Mates4Mates Psychologist, Clare Mitchell. 

Reading literary fiction improves theory of mind. Kidd and Castano (2013) Science
Life-span cognitive activity, neuropathologic burden and cognitive ageing  Wilson et al (2013) Neurology
Bookworms versus nerds: Exposure to fiction versus not-fiction, divergent associations with social ability and the simulation of fictional social worlds.   Mar et al (2006) Journal of Research in Personality
Examining the link between reading fiction and empathy: Ruling out individual differences and examining outcomes.   Mar, Oatley and Peterson (2009) Communications

  • Mental health
  • Veterans

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