Education and Skills

6 books to improve your mental and physical health

A line of books seen on a bookcase.

Sales of books have soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people turned to fiction for comfort and escape. Image: Unsplash/Tom Hermans

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Reading can be a balm for our mental health - reducing stress and helping us sleep better.
  • Sales of self-help books have doubled in the US since 2013.
  • These 6 books are both a pleasure to read and are designed to help you become healthier, happier and less stressed.

Pages of research have been dedicated to the link between reading and wellbeing. Just six minutes spent with a book each day is said to reduce stress levels by 68%, while non-readers are more likely to report depression.

Reading can also make you feel less lonely, have greater self-esteem, and get a better night’s sleep, according to University of Liverpool English Professor Josie Billington.

And those statistics are about reading any book - so imagine if you were reading a book designed to help you live a healthier, happier life?

Sales of books have soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people turned to fiction for comfort and escape. The self-help book market, meanwhile, has almost doubled in the US since 2013, showing the growing demand to find answers from experts.

Here are 6 books which will teach you more about your health and wellbeing.

1. Stressed, Unstressed: Classic Poems to Ease the Mind

Stressed, Unstressed: Classic Poems to Ease the Mind
Stressed, Unstressed: Classic Poems to Ease the Mind Image: Amazon

Compiled by Dr Paula Byrne and Prof Sir Jonathan Bate, who run bibliotherapy foundation ReLit, Stressed, Unstressed employs the age-old remedy of healing words, with poems from Horace and Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson and WB Yeats. As the English poet John Milton once wrote: "Apt words have power to assuage/The tumors of a troubled mind/And are as balm to festered wounds. Calmer now?"

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2. Maximize Your Metabolism: Lifelong Solutions to Lose Weight, Restore Energy, and Prevent Disease

Maximize Your Metabolism: Lifelong Solutions to Lose Weight, Restore Energy, and Prevent Disease
Maximize Your Metabolism: Lifelong Solutions to Lose Weight, Restore Energy, and Prevent Disease Image: Amazon

Endocrinologist Dr. Noel Maclaren and medical anthropologist Sunita Singh Maclaren combine medical and behavioural insights in this exploration of how metabolism impacts our health. They outline four metabolic ‘personality types’, based on the body’s sensitivity to insulin. They include recipes and advice to rebalance your metabolism to fight fatigue, increase muscle energy and protect yourself from disease-causing inflammation.

3. Reasons to Stay Alive

Reasons to Stay Alive
Reasons to Stay Alive Image: Amazon

When British author Matt Haig was 24, he began suffering from severe depression. This brave, funny and inspirational memoir has helped many readers across the world. It’s the story of how he learned to manage his mental health as well as an exploration of what helped him through crisis: from literature, to love, running and yoga - but above all, time.

4. Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams

Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams
Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams Image: Amazon

One of the best ways to stay healthy and happy - and live longer - is to sleep well. But in our busy, device-laden lives, sleep often drops lower down the priority list. Professor Matthew Walker, neuroscientist, psychologist and director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, explains how lack of sleep is linked to every major disease, from Alzheimer's to obesity. He assesses 20 years of research and answers questions about the impact of caffeine and alcohol - and how much sleep we really need.

5. An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System

An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System
An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System Image: Amazon

A book for our COVID-19 times, An Elegant Defense by Pulitzer-Prize-winning author and New York Times bestseller Matt Richtel tells four extraordinary medical stories to explore how the body fights bacteria, parasites, viruses and tumours - and how our immune systems can become a threat.

Through interviews and contributions from leading scientists, Richtel reveals how modern life puts unprecedented stress on the very system that keeps us healthy.

6. Forest Bathing: How Trees can help you find Health and Happiness

Forest Bathing: How Trees can help you find Health and Happiness
Forest Bathing: How Trees can help you find Health and Happiness Image: Amazon

Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, means spending more time around trees - and has been scientifically proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing. Here, Dr Qing Li, the world’s leading forest medicine expert, outlines her research, which found forest bathing boosted numbers of human natural killer cells that respond to viruses and tumours. Illustrated with more than 100 beautiful images, the book shows how forest bathing can reduce your stress levels, strengthen your immune and cardiovascular systems, and even help you lose weight and live longer.

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