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Reading to improve health

The National Year of Reading in Wales has highlighted one of the lesser known benefits of reading - the huge role it plays in improving individual's health and wellbeing.

Delving between the pages of a good book can provide a form of relaxation and escapism and help individuals manage stress and anxiety levels, which is in turn similar to taking exercise.

Everybody already knows the benefits of reading to improve language skills especially vocabulary and improving spelling. However, reading is also important to health as taking your mind off your own worries and woes with a good book even for a few minutes can have a therapeutic and longlasting effect.

Reading is so effective in tackling health problems, in particular mental illness, that in the UK there has been many NHS partnerships with organisations such as libraries to reach patients.

Wales led the way when it launched the Book Prescription Wales scheme in 2005, which was then emulated in many areas across the UK. So-called "bibliotherapists" work with health professionals who "prescribe" high-quality self-help books which have the similar treatments they would receive in counselling.

Chief Medical Officer for Wales Dr Tony Jewell said: "Reading can be helpful in understanding all sorts of health problems, giving people information and tips on how to help manage their illness better.

"For example in the field of mental illness, if you have problems then there are books on all types of issues from depression and anxiety to anger management that can be obtained to give advice and support. In Wales a range that has been  recommended by experts in their field can even be prescribed by your GP and lent free from the local library."

All types of books can help people relax including novels, fiction, nonfiction, biographies as well as self-help, self-improvement, health, motivational and educational books.

The National Year of Reading in Wales brings together people from all across Wales to share the joy of reading. A wide range of activities have already taken place as part of the year ranging from locally arranged reading groups through to the "Give a Book Week" and Reading Communities initiatives. Further details about how individuals and communities can get involved can be found on the National Year of Reading website.