Atop a dark wood table lies an open book, an apple, fairy lights and a mug with lemon inside.
Credit: Joanna Kosinka via Unsplash

Is reading the newest health fad we didn’t know we needed?

By Aysha Sohail

Aysha Sohail investigates how reading books can be beneficial to students’ health.

Have you ever read a book that felt like a tonic for the soul? Something you could dip into and feel the stress fade away? There may be more science in it than you think – reading has been proven to bring you health benefits – some of which are particularly pertinent for students. 

One study found that readers might live two years longer than a non-book reader. This applied to novel reading – not magazines or Twitter though! It can also combat cognitive decline, keeping our brains active.

Pick up a novel, and watch the stress levels deplete – reading leads to higher relaxation levels than gained from watching television or tech-intensive activities. The sense of escapism gained by delving into a story can make us feel calmer. Just half an hour a day helps. 

Sometimes, more targeted reading can help mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. One NHS trust has a Books-On-Prescription programme where patients have access to a range of mental health self-help books. These can aid people in understanding their symptoms, and learning how to manage them effectively on their own.

Struggling to sleep? You may want to keep a book on your nightstand. If you read a book in bed before sleeping, it can improve sleep quality by between 8 and 22% compared to those who do not. 

There are social benefits too. Reading can increase our empathy – by immersing ourselves into the lives, problems and thoughts of others, we are exposed to new ideas and cultures. This helps open the mind, as well as increase our understanding of each other.

So how can we incorporate this habit into our often hectic, daily lives?

Many of us spend far too much time on social media and get disappointing returns on our investment – so why not replace this with a book? Upon waking, or just before bed are good times to read.

If you commute to work or university, that’s a perfect moment to digest a chapter (or if you’re travelling anywhere, frankly). Always having a book in your bag is an easy way to facilitate this. After you arrive, if you catch yourself alone during a lunch break, read to keep yourself company! It can reduce feelings of loneliness.

Combine physical and mental fitness – while on a walk or a run, listen to an audiobook. They can be useful for when you’re on the go or stretched for time.

Taking inspiration from fitness: set small and manageable targets like a chapter a day, or one book a month. This can get you into a rhythm, which you’ll soon increase. 

Sometimes reading can feel solitary – but it doesn’t have to be. For a leisurely afternoon, browse a bookshop with friends then have a coffee and read afterwards. Join a book club (such as Glasgow University Book Society), where you can meet new people and discuss stories in more depth. This has the advantage of motivating you to finish your book, exposing you to different genres and allowing you to share a passion.

There is no better motivation than choosing a book you find fascinating though – search bookstore websites, look on Bookstagram/Booktok or ask friends for recommendations. Once you find something interesting enough, you won’t want to put it down.

People often talk about wanting to read more, and there are compelling health benefits for why you should add it to the schedule. Find a book that interests you and reap the benefits. Cause, let’s face it – Instagram is not going to make you healthier or happier.


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