Top medical experts Professor Louis Appleby and Baroness Susan Greenfield are backing a campaign about the health benefits of reading.
A nationwide survey commissioned by the National Year of Reading(1) to explore the importance of reading in everyday life confirmed that reading can have real benefits for your health, as well as for your social circumstances, with 86% of respondents confident that reading improves their mood.
Celebrities including Richard Judy, Lorraine Kelly, Terry Wogan, Roger Moore, John Humphrys, Sophie Dahl and Kenny Logan have all shown their support and shared their personal `feel good' reads.
Professor Louis Appleby CBE, National Director for Mental Health in England confirmed that reading can offer therapeutic benefits: "When we hear that reading is 'good for us' we may assume that this is because it helps our education. But reading anything for pleasure can also raise your spirits, offer an escape from everyday stresses, help you empathise with other people AND keep the brain ticking over. Reaching for a favourite magazine or book could well be good for your health."
Neurologist Baroness Susan Greenfield added her support: "Reading novels and magazines can offer a brief respite from the stresses and strains of everyday life. Traditionally reading was associated with learning, and in this way it is good for personal development, but reading a magazine or even cook book can be very comforting. Our brains are constantly bombarded with information, more so now than ever before, and reading is a good way to wind down."
For nearly 2/3 respondents their primary reason for reading was to forget about their troubles, not unsurprising in these testing times. A whopping 82% read to wind down, with over 1/3 finding it hard to sleep if they haven't read before bedtime.
The findings definitely back up Professor Appleby's assertion with 63% feeling relaxed when reading a favorite read, closely followed by 50% enjoying the `escapism from everyday life' offered by a favorite book or magazine. Interestingly only 29% read to become better informed showing that reading is popular predominantly for enjoyment and relaxation rather than learning.
Ex-Scotland rugby international and Strictly Come Dancing star Kenny Logan lent support to the campaign: "I left school at 16 not being able to read or write. It wasn't until I was 30 that I decided to do something about it. I went through a program for dyslexia and after several months of hard work, I managed to transform my reading skills and learning ability. Being able to read has made such a massive difference to my life. Reading definitely makes me relax and feel good. My favorite things to read are the sports pages and reading a story to my kids at night - and emails of course"
Reading is most commonly associated with books but only just over half of respondents named books as their favorite read. With over a third of those surveyed now preferring magazines and newspapers, one in ten (9%) happiest reading online and 4% liking e-books the way we read is clearly changing dramatically - but the benefits are as broad as ever.
Honor Wilson-Fletcher, Director for the National Year of Reading, gave support to the trend: "Research has found that people who can read get ahead in life(2) but there is no rule book about what you should read. Reading is important in all its forms - it opens doors and makes life easier, so at the end of the day it doesn't matter what you read. What's more, it really can make you feel good!"
So why does reading improve our mood? Aside from offering an escape from the daily grind 83% of people laugh out loud when reading and laughter was certainly a popular prerequisite for most celebrities when choosing their favorite read. Sophie Dahl, Kaye Adams and Terry Wogan all mentioned enjoying a good laugh when reading their `feel good read'.
Murder Mystery (30%) topped the poll as a favorite `feel good read', closely followed by romance (24%). Poetry was cited as the least favorite and perhaps surprisingly social networking sites were the second least popular polling just 9%. Newspapers topped the poll of most frustrating reads with 18% of those surveyed saying the news was depressing.
As well as the therapeutic benefits, nearly 2/3 respondents (60%) claimed reading had influenced them to change something in their lives. After recommending the article to a friend, re-evaluating `love life' was the most likely outcome with one in five respondents claiming to have taken action after reading an influential article or book.
`Read to Feel Good' is the last campaign of the 2008 National Year of Reading, during which 2.3 million people joined libraries in England. The campaign to engage the nation with reading, in all its forms, will continue under the banner Reading for Life .
(1) Survey conducted 15th March 2009 by One Poll. 4,323 respondents
(2) Literacy changes lives: the role of literacy in offending behaviour. Published by the National Literacy Trust, September 2008.