Ever thought about reading as a component of a healthy lifestyle? Librarian Ellen Swansson considers the wellness benefits of being a regular reader.

'The benefits of reading books (especially fiction) have been known for centuries. It was the ancient Greeks who inscribed above the entrance to the library in Thebes that those going in were entering ‘healing place for the soul.’

In our evidence-based world, more and more studies are being undertaken to quantify and understand the exact effects that reading has on our mental health. Claims are being made, for example, that reading significantly reduces our risk of depression or that it can reduce the risk of dementia in old age.

It has even been shown that when people read about someone going through a certain experience, they display stimulation in the same neurological regions as when they go through that experience themselves, thereby strengthening their ability to empathise with, and show compassion to others.

There has even been a huge growth in the practice of Bibliotherapy, whereby practitioners use books as ‘medicine’, prescribing literary texts to support people through specific difficulties in their lives.

At its most basic, the very act of losing yourself in a good book has many parallels with mindfulness practice; the ability to be in the present moment and be fully immersed in someone else’s story, is a complete escape from our everyday pressures and demands.

It has been shown that reading puts our brains into a trance-like state in a similar way to meditation, and that this in turn can lead to health benefits such as better sleep, lower stress levels and higher self-esteem.

The best thing of all is that the portable nature of books means that you can jump into this state any time you need to, such as when commuting, waiting for an appointment, or tucked up in bed.'

Boroondara has five libraries where staff can lose themselves in a good book anytime. Joining the library is easy, and can be done online or in person. Our friendly staff are always available to help with reading' recommendations.