Some activities punch above their weight. Just a little bit of effort and time invested in them can yield outsize rewards either in terms of happiness, health, or productivity. Take yoga, for example. Just 20 minutes after lunch can significantly boost your brain function. Or napping. A snooze of less than an hour boosts memory fivefold. And your mom was right about eating breakfast. Put a little thought into proper nutrition in the morning and you'll increase your energy all day.

So what else should we add to this list of small, painless habits that pay off big time? Research suggests that at least 30 minutes a week of reading for pleasure is a strong contender for membership in this elite club.

Picking up the latest bestseller seems like a nice enough way to pass a half hour, but what benefits beyond a better vocabulary and maybe a little less stress could it possibly offer? Quite impressive ones, according to research from the British organization Quick Reads conducted by Josie Billington of the Centre for Research Into Reading, Literature and Society at the University of Liverpool. The poll of more than 4,000 adults uncovered some startling facts on the impact of a regular reading habit on both our health and happiness.

Regular reading: A magic elixir for health.

Folks who read at least 30 minutes a week are 20 percent more likely to report greater life satisfaction and 11 percent more likely to feel creative. They're also 28 percent less likely to suffer from depression and 18 percent more likely to report high self-esteem. Even if your worries are just garden variety, reading will probably help. Reading a book was ranked as a more effective cure for anxiety than taking a walk or chatting with a friend, and almost one in five respondents (19 percent) said reading helps them feel less lonely.

Reading, the study shows, helps boost empathy and makes us feel more connected to those around us (readers also report being more comfortable chatting with strangers than nonreaders). It can also help us get through difficult periods by showing us we're not alone in our challenges and low points. And, of course, it's not a bad way to learn a few things too. Readers, unsurprisingly, had greater general knowledge, greater awareness of other cultures, and richer life experiences.

But the benefits of picking up a book now and again aren't just about mood. Regular reading (and again, we're talking about only a half hour a week here--no PhDs in literature required) was shown to help beat insomnia by this latest research, but it's hardly the only study to demonstrate the positive effects of reading on the body and brain.

"Reading for pleasure in general can also help prevent conditions such as stress, depression, and dementia," Sue Wilkinson, the CEO of the U.K. charity the Reading Agency, told Fast Company recently. "Large scale studies in the U.S. show that being more engaged with reading, along with other hobbies, is associated with a lower subsequent risk of incidents of dementia."

No wonder super successful folks from Warren Buffett to Bill Gates constantly urge would-be entrepreneurs (well, everybody really) to read more. Convinced you need to make more time in your week for reading? Then check out interesting advice on how to get the most out of your new reading habit.

Do you read as much as you should?

Published on: Aug 3, 2015