Recent research has shown that within as little as six minutes, muscle tension reduces and heart rate decreases as a result of reading.
It seems we are not to underestimate the powerful benefits of reading for stress relief.
In 2009, Mindlab International carried out research at the University of Sussex to determine the physiological responses in the body as a result of reading and other relaxation activities. They worked with a group of volunteers and recorded responses in the body such as heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension before and after engaging in activities such as reading, listening to music, drinking a cup of tea or going for a walk.
It was found that reading reduced the participants starting measurements (and subsequent stress levels) by a whopping 68%!
This was also found to be a higher percentage ahead of
- listening to music (a 61% reduction)
- drinking tea (a 54% reduction)
- going for a walk (a 42% reduction).
Whilst there can certainly be factors that may affect some of these results, the truth is that reading significantly lowers the effects of stress in the body! However, I would point out that the results with the other activities also provide significant and worthwhile reductions.
Reading and The Relaxation Response
The physiological factors that change (for the better) such as heart rate decreasing and reduced muscle tension are all signs of what Dr Herbert Benson (a harvard doctor) described as invoking what he termed “The Relaxation Response”.
Dr Benson talked about the two most important factors needed to invoke this response. The first factor being a mantra, a word or phrase or a count (something to focus the mind) and the second factor being the ability to immediately come back to your focus point when you recognise that your mind has wandered off.
I believe this 2009 research shows that reading does in fact activate these two factors. It allows you to read a collection of words (your focus point), and it forces you to let go of your own thoughts if you go off wandering in your mind and bring your focus back to the present moment and what you are reading.
Not All Types of Reading are Created Equally
Be aware however of consuming too much negative or violent information as this will affect the degree to which you are able to relax and not contribute long term to a healthy level of thinking. I encourage you to notice how you feel after reading certain information and let that be your best guide as to whether something feels good for you.
There really are so many unexpected ways to invoke this relaxation response in your system, and it is quite astounding at just how significantly reading does in fact relax and calm you.
Next time your nose is buried in a book, know that you are making a major contribution to your health and wellbeing and helping your recovery from burnout and adrenal fatigue.
Good night, I’m off for a spot of reading 🙂