Feel like flipping out? A good book may help you relax more than walking or listening to music.
There’s no doubt that it’s stressful out there these days, especially for parents and also basically anyone who’s been following the news. Life can feel like a constant barrage of tasks, information, and obligations, all with your smartphone buzzing and blinking at you every five seconds. With your brain going at full speed all day, it can feel almost impossible to get your heart rate down, let alone relax.
Fortunately, a recent study shows that just six minutes of sustained reading can reduce stress by 68 percent and help you get back in the game with a less tense body and clearer mind.
Mindlab International researchers at the University of Sussex took the stress levels and heart rates of a group of test subjects before engaging them in a variety of different activities while monitoring their signs of stress. Surprisingly reading a book for just a few minutes worked better than other traditionally relaxing activities, including walking, listening to music, playing video games, or drinking a cup of coffee or tea.
Specifically, listening to music reduced the levels by 61 percent, have a cup of tea of coffee lowered levels by 54 percent, and taking a walk by 42 percent. Playing video games brought stress levels down by 21 percent, but increased heart rate.
Researcher and cognitive neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis stated:
“Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation. 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 and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination.”
He was also quick to point out that reading is much more than a distraction (if it wasn’t, then video games would’ve worked just as well).
“This is more than merely a distraction,” he said, “but an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.”
While it doesn’t seem to matter what you read, from a textbook to a novel to the back of a cereal box, some types of materials may be more relaxing than others. For example, reading the news might cause you more distress by preventing a mental escape, while reading a novel may have added benefits, such as increasing empathy, building vocabulary, boosting creativity, increasing happiness, and keeping your mind sharp in old age.
It might stress you out to even think about adding another to-do to your day that includes reading, but reading for just six minutes doesn’t take a ton of time or forethought — it’s an easy enough habit to integrate into your schedule whenever you might need it (although reading consistently on a daily basis has tons of its own benefits as well).
The Elevate Blog shared a few tips on how to fit in your six minutes of reading time, starting with taking advantage of convenient ways to read, which can include reading on your phone, tablet, or e-reader. They also suggest reading in small gap spaces in your day, such as between meetings, while waiting for the elevator, or while on the train. Finally, try to add reading to your daily habits — opening a book for just a few minutes before bed can not only help you sleep, but also get you away from screens in those vital minutes before rest.
There are also a couple of other ways to encourage reading in your own life. Try keeping a reading log (just like your kids!), join a book club, or check out the reading list of someone you admire. And remember: it will help out both your body and mind.