The Surprising Benefits of Reading for Pleasure

Man comfortably reading book whilst sitting on chair beside patio door

Do you remember when you last sat down to read a book, just for the fun of it? For an avid reader that may seem like a strange question, but according to the Reading Agency, two-thirds of adults in the UK would like to read more, but nearly half of them admit they’re just too busy to read. It’s understandable, we lead hectic lives and finding time to pause and read can often be a difficult thing for many. But reading for pleasure can have some surprising benefits that could help to improve your life.

What is reading for pleasure?

Reading for pleasure is exactly that. It’s when you take some time for yourself during your day to read for the joy of it and not for necessity or educational reasons.

We read a lot throughout the day, whether it’s keeping up with social media on your phone, checking the daily newspaper or even scanning the instructions on the back of a packet! And while there’s no wrong way to read, you might be surprised to find out that this kind of reading doesn’t have the same benefits as reading for pleasure does.

Let’s have a look at what benefits you could experience If you managed to squeeze in even half an hour every day to read...

Lower levels of stress

Stress can affect our health in many ways. It can cause chest pain, stomach problems, difficulty concentrating and a sense of being overwhelmed, to name a few. It’s important to pay attention to your emotions and your body so you can make positive changes to reduce your stress levels.

A study at the University of Sussex found that just six minutes of reading could improve your health overall. In fact, reading has been shown to reduce stress levels by up to 68%. This is because reading helps your muscles to relax and it slows down your breathing which leaves you feeling calmer. When we read, the body becomes more relaxed which allows our minds to calm and our heart rates to slow down.

Increased empathy

Having empathy is important because it can help us to understand how others are feeling so we can respond appropriately to the situation and others’ emotions. Empathetic people tend to have more helpful behaviour towards others.

Some studies have shown that reading fiction can make you a more empathetic person. This is because when we read, we are stepping out of ourselves and into the mind of a stranger. We see the world through their eyes, we follow their thought process and experience their emotions along with them. Doing this requires us to use “theory of mind”, a skill that helps us to understand why someone acts in a certain way or to predict how someone will act. Practising this skill while reading makes it easier to use in real-life situations.

Better sleep 

Getting a good night’s sleep is an essential part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. While we sleep, our bodies repair themselves and our brains have time to process and sort through our memories and experiences and prepare for the next day.

Reading before you go to sleep not only helps to relax and calm you down, but it can actually help you to have a better sleep. You could even use reading to create a sleep-inducing bedtime routine. Why not try putting your phone away an hour before you get into bed, having a warm (caffeine-free) drink and reading until you begin to feel sleepy. A nightly ritual like this could help your body to recognise when it’s time to wind down and sleep.

Improved relationships with others

Much like reading for pleasure can make us more empathetic people, it can also help us to build stronger, longer-lasting relationships. This is because people who regularly read for pleasure tend to have better social skills. They’re more adept at understanding their own identities as well as empathising with others, which is a key part in relating to others and relationship-building.

Reduced risk of dementia

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, keeping your mind active through reading is likely to reduce your risk of dementia. One study carried out found that keeping up reading, writing and playing games in later life could delay the onset of dementia by up to five years. This is because reading for pleasure challenges you mentally and doing this regularly seems to build up the brain’s ability to cope with disease.

I want to read more often, where do I start?

The Reading Agency found that a quarter of adults they surveyed admitted that they would read more if they were given recommendations from friends and family. If you’re not a natural bookworm you might feel at a loss of where to start, so why not try asking around and finding out what your loved ones have been reading?

There are also plenty of websites and blogs dedicated to reviewing books and sharing recommendations that you could use to find your next read. These can be great when you want to start reading but you’re not too sure what you’re looking for. Here are a few websites to get you started...

  • Goodreads
  • Love Reading
  • The Richard and Judy Book Club

If you think you’ll struggle to keep up with reading regularly, you could join a virtual book club. Sharing the experience of reading can make it easier to stick with a book. When you read with a book club you’ll have small goals to reach, like finishing a chapter by a set date. You’ll also be able to discuss your thoughts on the book with others reading it which can make it a more enjoyable experience.

If you don’t feel too comfortable heading to your local bookshop during these uncertain times, you could purchase your books online. Amazon and Book Depository both sell new and second-hand books at reasonable prices. And if you prefer to read ebooks, you could nab yourself some from Amazon Kindle for as little as £99p.

So, what are you waiting for?

Now that the evenings are getting a little longer and colder, it could be the perfect time to start reading more often. Curling up with a warm drink and a good book could be one of the best ways to spend a cosy evening. And not only can it be an enjoyable way to spend your time, but you’ll also probably feel mentally and physically better for doing so.

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