Dr David Lee, lead consultant clinical psychologist at Camali Clinic Image Credit: Supplied

In the pages of a book, lie a reader’s great escape — you can be whoever you want to be, go wherever you please.

For children dealing with physical or mental ill health, books can be a powerful psychological tool for better health.

Dr David Lee, lead consultant clinical psychologist at Camali Clinic in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, said: “Reading, as an activity, can help particularly with depression and anxiety so long as the person is meaningfully engaged with the text. It draws on many cognitive processes, including working memory, that help to counteract rumination and worrying. On a behavioural level, reading can induce pleasure as well as a sense of mastery or achievement — for instance, when learning through reading. Both of these are crucial for alleviating low mood and depression.”

He warned however, that reading is not — in and of itself — an intervention to aid recovery from trauma. It’s what you read that counts.

A study published in the US-based journal Brain Connectivity, found that becoming engrossed in a novel improves brain function. Reading fiction, particularly, increases one’s empathy and flexes the imagination in a way that is similar to the visualisation of muscle memory in sports.

A 2011 study published in the US-based Annual Review of Psychology found that when people read about an experience, they display stimulation within the same neurological regions as when they go through that experience themselves.

Research by Mindlab International at the University of Sussex, UK, discovered that reading reduces stress levels by 68 per cent – readers only needed to read silently for six minutes to slow down the heart rate and ease tension in their muscles.

Apart from short-term gains, reading has a lasting impact on one’s personal growth.

Dr Lee said: “Individuals who read progressively throughout childhood and adolescence generally become more cognitively advanced at processing language. They are likely to become better at articulating and expressing themselves. They can acquire skills and processes that help to counterbalance an overreliance on seeking immediate rewards and instant gratification. Essentially, readers become better able to soothe themselves, more mindfully present and better able to suppress short-term urges and impulses. They may become more resilient to depression and developing addictions.”

The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends daily reading to children beginning by six months of age.