Even six minutes of reading can reduce stress levels by more than two thirds, according to a new study.
The study, conducted on a group of volunteers by consultancy Mindlab International at the University of Sussex, also found that it works better and faster than other methods to calm frazzled nerves, such as listening to music, going for a walk or settling down with a cup of tea.
According to psychologists, this is because the human mind has to concentrate on reading and the distraction of being taken into a literary world eases the tensions in muscles and the heart.
For the study, researchers increased the subjects’ stress levels and heart rate through a range of tests and exercises before they were tested with a variety of traditional methods of relaxation.
Cognitive neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis, who conducted the test, said that reading worked best, reducing stress levels by 68 per cent.
He found that subjects only needed to read, silently, for six minutes to slow down the heart rate and ease tension in the muscles. In fact it got subjects to stress levels lower than before they started.
Listening to music reduced the levels by 61 per cent, have a cup of tea of coffee lowered them by 54 per cent and taking a walk by 42 per cent.
Lewis found that playing video games brought them down by 21 per cent from their highest level but still left the volunteers with heart rates above their starting point. "Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation,” the Telegraph quoted Lewis, as saying.
"This is particularly poignant in uncertain economic times when we are all craving a certain amount of escapism.
"It really doesn't matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author's imagination.
"This is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness," Lewis added.