Dr Michael Mosley says this hobby can lower blood pressure and boost your mental health

Dr Michael Mosley
Michael Mosley says this hobby could be very good for your mental and physical well-being -Credit:PR Handout

Dr Michael Mosley has listed an unlikely hobby which he says can cut your blood pressure and also massively enhance your mental health. What is interesting is that it is not strenuous physical activity either.

Reading poetry might bring back bad school memories for some, but Dr Mosley says it can make a difference to your mental health and well-being. Intriguingly, research suggests that reading it out loud can give it an even bigger boost.

"Reading poetry has been shown to help people reduce stress and help people cope with feelings of loneliness. Reading poetry out loud could have even more benefits – it’s been shown to activate your body’s rest and repair response," the TV health guru said on his BBC Just One Thing podcast.

"In a study of 400 poetry lovers, researchers at Plymouth and Nottingham Trent University found that sharing, discussing and writing poetry helped them cope with loneliness, isolation and feelings of anxiety and depression. It is already used as therapy – in hospitals, mental health clinics, schools and prisons. It is still under-researched but there is evidence that it can boost emotional well-being and make you feel more hopeful.

"In a small US study, cancer patients were randomised to listen to poetry or music. Both groups reported improvements in mood and pain levels, but only the poetry group reported feelings of hope.

"In another small study, 44 children in hospital either read or wrote poetry. While engaging in poetry did not reduce their pain, it did significantly reduce their feelings of fear, anger, sadness and worry, and also increased their energy levels."

Although the impact of poetry has not been well-researched, it appears its impact has been understood for thousands of years. The Ancient Egyptians wrote poems on papyrus, dissolved it in paper and drank it.

Dr Mosley stressed he did not recommend drinking poetry, But he did point out poems were meant to be heard as they were used as a means of reciting great tales.

He said it was a shame people are more likely to read them in silence now rather than out loud. Reading them out loud is apparently a powerful way to trigger a natural relaxation response – your parasympathetic nervous system. That, in turn, could have big benefits for your health, by lowering your heart rate, lowering your blood pressure and lifting your moods and settling your thoughts.

Dietrich von Bonin, from the Swiss Association of Art Therapies, has studied the topic. He said: "Poetry can help switch off your stress responses. In doing that, it can lower blood pressure, regulate the immune system and regulate mood and quality of life.

"If you read poetry out loud, it slows the breathing rate down to about 12 breaths per minute and that is the main cause for the effect on the parasympathetic and this helps increase heart rate variability."

For best results, he said to try it for a few minutes three or four times a week. It can't be any old poem though. For maximum benefit, it should be rhythmical poetry with stressed and unstressed syllables. He said hexameter poems were the best - these are usually Greek or Latin poems with a specific rhythm.

"We don’t exactly know why yet but we think rhythmical speaking forms the flow of breath more effectively than a simple exhalation so you naturally lengthen the exhale and give a rhythm to it," he continued. "You are breathing out for three times as long as you are breathing in. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system even further."

The NHS already uses poetry to help people with their mental health issues. "It distracts you from breathing – people are over-attentive to it, which is not helpful," Mr von Bonin concluded.