Reading for release

Pick up a paperback and find inner peace.

- Words Nikki Addison

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2020, plunging New Zealand into nationwide lockdown, many of us abruptly found ourselves with a lot more time on our hands. To stay busy, we engaged in a myriad of activities. We baked, we knitted, we streamed, we exercised, and we read.

As we turned the pages of our respective novels, we noticed our spirits lift a little. Our minds sharpen. Our tensions ease. Was it all in our heads? The answer is no: Reading really is good for the mind, body and soul. Aside from the obvious – providing entertainm­ent – reading boosts creativity, improves brain function and memory, enhances vocabulary, and can even increase empathy. Arguably the most beneficial outcome is stress relief. In an increasing­ly fast-paced world, reading forces us to pause and refocus. Concentrat­ing on the story before us, we step out of reality and leave everyday thoughts and concerns behind. It’s not surprising, then, that researcher­s from the United States found health science students experience­d reduced heart rates, blood pressure and feelings of distress after just 30 minutes of reading. A truly immersive experience, reading engages and stimulates the mind. Put simply… it just feels good.

There are many ways to consume books today, from physical objects and audiobooks, to Kindles and apps. Yet as convenient as electronic forms of reading (or listening) are, it’s hard to beat the sensation of flipping through the crisp pages of a hefty paperback novel. Reading printed material provides an escape from the constant flow of visual informatio­n we are confronted with daily. We spend a significan­t amount of time looking at screens, and our minds need a break. Reading provides this much-needed respite. It’s better for you, too. Because we generally read printed content more slowly and thoroughly than digital content, we absorb informatio­n better – as proven in a 2016 study, which found people who read printed material could recall more of what they read than those who read digital material.

If you’re new to reading, selecting a book can be overwhelmi­ng. A good place to start is to consider your favourite television shows. Are you drawn to thrillers? True crime? Romantic comedies? Chances are, you’ll find books in the same genre interestin­g. To narrow your decision further, ask friends and family for suggestion­s. Most bookstores also display staff recommenda­tions on their shelves. And remember: it’s what’s inside that counts – the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” exists for a reason.

Working reading into your lifestyle is another challenge. Committing to 15 minutes before bed is an effective way to create a habit, but if that sounds too difficult, make reading your commuter activity. If you drive to work, read a few pages at lunch instead. Or, schedule in a self-care Sunday and relax with a bath soak, a hot cuppa and a good book. Pick your poison and give it a go. Reading has so much to offer.

“Arguably the most beneficial outcome is stress relief. In an increasing­ly fastpaced world, reading forces us to pause and refocus.”

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