What is the healthiest way to read? – The Ultimate Guide

If you are reading a lot, you will want to make sure that you are doing that in a healthy way as otherwise, you could damage your posture and eyesight, which can lead to various health issues.

To read healthily, you should maintain a proper posture while reading and read with proper lighting. This can be achieved by monitoring one’s posture to avoid slouching, varying the reading position, and taking breaks every 20 to 60 minutes to move and stretch.

I have gathered the information for this article from numerous physical therapists and articles by credible institutions such as Harvard Health. So read on to learn how to exactly maintain good posture and health while reading.

What is the best reading position?

“There is no such thing as a one perfect position that’s gonna work for you all the time. You got to adjust positions, you cannot just stay in the same position all day long”

Matt Hsu, NASM Corrective Exercise Specialist, ACE Orthopedic Exercise Specialist, Upright Health

“If you are not changing positions frequently, your body will break down.”

Dr. Jon Saunders

There is no one best reading position since if you maintain any posture, such as sitting or laying, for too long it will begin to strain your body. Instead, it is important to vary your posture from time to time.

“When you are in this perfect posture, you don’t want to stay locked in this posture for more than 20 minutes… get up and strech a little bit, get back down and get yourself positioned again”

Brad Heineck, Physical Therapist

Physical therapists Bob Schrupp and Brad Heineck suggest that you should stand up, move and stretch for every 20 minutes of sitting or being in some other position. While making a short moving break might feel inefficient and intrusive, according to Schrupp, by taking care of your posture and moving every 20 minutes you will end more productive in the end. Since you will not have the various bad posture issues and pain that would distract you from reading.

“You are going to become more efficient cause you are not going to have pain and issues that distract you from your work. So you really wanna make an excuse for getting up from sitting every more than 20 minutes, I would say even 10 minutes if you can.”

Bob Schrupp, Physical Therapist

For me personally, 20 minutes is too short, I generally tend to read my books for a longer period without moving. This is fine since other sources, such as Meghan Markowski, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, recommend changing one’s position every 30 to 60 minutes instead.

The most important thing you want to do is to get up out of your chair every hour. Get up and walk, get something to eat, something to drink, just get up.

Ergonomics expert Jon Cinkay

Also, it is a good idea to take a break not only because of posture but also because by taking breaks every 50 minutes or so will allow your mind to rest and recharge – see our articles on the perfect break length and break importance to learn more about breaks and how they can help you stay productive.

Lastly, according to ergonomics expert Jon Cinkay most of us cannot maintain a good posture for prolonged periods, we tend to slouch after about 15 minutes. So this is one more reason why taking a break or varying your position periodically is a good idea

With that being said, there are postures for reading that are good and that are bad. I reviewed numerous videos and sources by physical therapists on this and categorized all of the suggested proper reading positions into 6 main groups:

  1. Reading positions while sitting in a chair
  2. Reading positions while in a bed
  3. Reading positions while on a couch
  4. Reading positions while standing
  5. Other good reading positions

1. Proper reading posture in a chair

If you want to read while sitting in a chair you should:

Example of wedging your rear end into the back of the chair

1. Wedge your rear end into the back of the chair so as to provide more support for your lower back and avoid slouching (Dawn Cox, PT, Bob Schrupp, and Brad Heineck PTs).

2. If needed use a pillow to support your lower back and block yourself from slouching forward. Adjust the pillow based on comfort some people use it over the sacrum, some people use it on the lower back (Bob Schrupp, and Brad Heineck PTs).

Example of allowing your back to be supported by the chair

3. Rest your back on the chair and let it be supported (Dawn Cox, PT).

Example of resting your elbows on the body for support, while holding a phone or a book

4. Rest your elbows on your body, with your shoulders relaxed, down, and back (Dawn Cox, PT).

Example of holding a book or a phone at the correct angle

5. Hold the book sufficiently high so that your head would not come forward. If you are holding the book with your hands, your arms should be about 45 to 60 degrees relative to the plane of the floor (Dawn Cox, PT). This can be achieved by:

  • holding the book with both of your elbows resting on your body or on your chair (if that is possible)
  • using a bookstand or something else to prop up the book
  • using some pillows or something else to prop up the book and then resting your elbows on the pillows while holding the book
  • using a specialized table that can serve as a bookstand

6. Monitor your head posture, you do not want to allow your head to come forward.

Example of the correct feet position and knee angle

8. Your feet should be feet flat down on the ground and your knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle (Dawn Cox, PT).

9. Adjust the chair if needed. If the chair is too high for you to achieve this you might want to lower the chair or get a footstool. If the chair is too low, you increase it is high if possible, get a new chair or put something like a pillow under yourself as a last resort (Bob Schrupp, and Brad Heineck PTs).

10. The ears should be lined up with the shoulders (Bob Schrupp, and Brad Heineck PTs).

11. Maintain your spine straight and a level pelvis, the weight should be distributed equally on both sides. You do not want to put too much of your weight on either the left or right side (Bob Schrupp, and Brad Heineck PTs).

12. Make sure you are relaxed and comfortable, in a neutral position, it is impossible to maintain an exaggerated posture, and your muscles should not be tense (Dawn Cox, PT). If you are not used to sitting with proper posture, then at first it might feel a bit weird.

Dawn Cox, PT, demonstrating a proper sitting posture

2. Proper reading posture in bed

There are several ways how you can read in bed.

Firstly you can read while sitting in bed.

Once again it is important not to hunch over because hunching is harmful to your neck, midback, and lower back. You can achieve a good sitting position in the bed by:

1. Your legs should not be up and bent, they should be stretched out, if you want you can put a small pillow under your knees.

2. Your lower back (lumbar) and neck should be supported with pillows so as to achieve a relatively straight spine.

3. You want to prop up the book with some pillows so as to stop yourself from bending forward, which can damage your neck.

4. Another option to achieve a proper sitting posture in bed is to use a wedge pillow, it can help you to achieve a proper position without using too many pillows.

Secondly, you could try to read while partially laying down.

Bob Schrupp and Brad Heineck, Physical Therapists

You can achieve a proper partial laying down posture by:

1. Use pillows or a bed wedge to provide support for your lower back and neck, so as to not end up in a situation where your neck is leaning forward at a 45-degree angle to the resto of your body.

2. If needed prop up the book with a pillow or something else so to avoid leaning forward.

Thirdly, you could read in bed while fully laying down.

You can achieve such a position by:

1. Putting a pillow below your head that allows it to achieve a neutral position. A neutral position means that your neck has a slight curve, but it is essentially in a straight line with the rest of your body. You do not want to be bending forward.

2. You want to use a second pillow to provide arm support so that it would be easier to hold the book. Do not have the book too low, you want to keep it sufficiently high so as to avoid tucking your chin. If needed use a second pillow or blanket to prop up the book even higher.

3. Proper reading posture on a couch

There are several ways of achieving a good reading posture on your couch.

Firstly, you could just sit normally with your legs flat on the floor.

1. Use a pillow or pillows to prop up your back, especially your lower back so as to keep your spine straight.

2. Use a pillow or something else to prop up the book that you are reading so as to avoid leaning forward.

3. Your knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle and most of the tips for sitting in the chair should apply (see above).

Secondly, you could keep your legs crossed below you.

Thirdly, you could sit with your knees bent and legs on the couch.

4. Proper reading posture while standing

Dawn Cox, PT

How to hold the book correctly:

1. Stand straight. Stack the shin bones on the ankle bone, and make sure they are vertical, the thigh bones and the pelvic bone, the ribcage bone, the shoulder girdle bones, and the head and neck bones, all should be stacked vertically (Dawn Cox, PT).

2. Rest your upper arms on your body and get the book at a distance that feels right for you, 45 to 60 degrees off the plane of the floor (Dawn Cox, PT). Make sure that the book is high enough so as to not lean forward!

3. You can also alternatively hold one of your hands under your lat or the armpit. So as to provide support for the hand that is holding the book (Dr. Jon Saunders).

4. You want to be relaxed in this posture, you do not want your muscles to be tense. If it is too difficult you should change the position (Dawn Cox, PT).

5. Other proper reading positions

There are a couple of other great reading positions that I have found.

Firstly you could lay flat on your belly with the book in front of you (see the picture below).

A different variation of the above is to hold the book in front of you (see the picture below).

Secondly, you could try to put the book on your couch, and read it there (see below). Make sure that you are not hunching back, the back of the head should be brought up towards the ceiling, keep your both hands on the couch, and if needed bend your legs. It is not an easy position to keep for long, so once you get tired (e.g. after 1 minute) you can switch to a different position.

Thirdly, you could put the book on top of the couch (see the picture below). Make sure you are doing this symmetrically and that you are twisting to both sides. You should switch up the positions quite frequently.

Fourthly, you could lie on your back and keep the book above you – see the picture below (Dr. Jon Saunders).

Dr. Jon Saunders

Fifthly, you could scooch up to the wall, with your back as close to the wall as possible, knees should be bent. While holding the book your elbows should be on top of the knees and your head should be back against the wall (Dr. Jon Saunders).

How to prevent eye strain from reading

  1. Take frequent breaks – use the 20-20-20 rule when reading. Every 20 minutes look 20 feet (about 6 meters) into the distance for at least 20 seconds (Harvard Health).
  2. Make sure that what you are reading is well-lit. Make sure that the room is well-lit as well (Feel Good Contacts & Harvard Health). According to Dr. Gardiner, you should use at least 100-watt bulbs.
  3. Consider using e-ink devices such as kindle or paper books instead of reading on screens as it generally results in less eye strain (Feel Good Contacts, Cal Newport).
  4. If you are using an e-reader or reading on a device like a tablet – adjust the font size so that it would be sufficiently big and easy to read. For physical books, whose font is too small, you could use a reading magnifier (Harvard Health).
  5. If needed use reading glasses (Cal Newport).
  6. If your eyes feel too dry consider using an eye lubricant (Harvard Health).

Overall as Cal Newport mentions, the benefits of reading considerably outweigh the disadvantages and as a result, we should not stop reading books just because of eye strain or posture issues. After all, both posture and eye strain issues can be mitigated by using the advice above.

Many of us spend a lot of time looking at our smartphones, TVs, and computers, which is generally a lot more damaging to our health than reading and also a lot less beneficial than reading. So grab a book and begin reading!

If you want to become a daily reader I highly recommend checking out our ultimate guide on building a reading habit!

Danielius Korsakas

Has a BSc in Economics and currently is pursuing a double master's degree in very fluffy but interesting subjects. Loves learning and building stuff.

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