How Reading Books Can Boost Your Life Expectancy

Filed in The Healthy Writer by on December 12, 2016 • views: 1932

read-winterWriters are regularly told to read.

It’s through reading that we become immersed in story. We learn from the masters, and intuitively gain experience in plot, characterization, pacing, and more.

Most writing teachers will tell you that if you’re not reading—a lot—you can’t expect to become a better writer.

Well, now you have even more reason to add more books to that stack by your bed. In a recent study, researchers determined that people who spend significant time reading books actually live longer than those who don’t!

read-book-handsStudy Shows Readers Enjoy Longer Life

For the study, researchers analyzed data from just over 3,600 people, all over the age of 50. These people had all taken part in another study on health, and had provided information on their reading habits.

Researchers then divided the participants into three groups:

  1. Those who didn’t read any books.
  2. Those who read books up to 3.5 hours a week.
  3. Those who read books more than 3.5 hours a week.

They analyzed the data, and found that heavy book readers tended to be college-educated women in higher income groups. So they controlled for those factors, as well as for other things like race, age, self-reported health, depression, and employment and marital status.

After doing all that figuring, they came up with the results, which showed the following:

  • Those who read for up to 3.5 hours a week were 17 percent less likely to die over the 12-year study follow up than those who didn’t read books at all.
  • Those who read for more than 3.5 hours a week were 23 percent less likely to die than those who didn’t read books at all.
  • Book readers lived an average of nearly two years longer than non-book readers.
  • Those who read newspapers and periodicals—rather than books—also experienced a protective effect, but it was weaker than in those who read books.
  • The more time people spent reading, the better, but reading as little as a half-hour a day was still beneficial in terms of survival.

“People who report as little as a half-hour a day of book reading,” said senior study author Becca R. Levy, “had a significant survival advantage over those who did not read. And the survival advantage remained after adjusting for wealth, education, cognitive ability and many other variables.”

book-glassesReading Novels Creates Lasting Changes on the Brain

Why would reading books have an effect on our longevity? Researchers aren’t sure, but they suspect that it has something to do with how reading stimulates the brain.

Books, for example, encourage us to get deeply immersed in the story, and reading them results in improved vocabulary, reasoning, concentration, and critical thinking skills. Studies have also shown that reading novels increases empathy and emotional intelligence.

In a 2013 study involving MRI brain scans of participants, researchers discovered that reading a novel created lasting effects on the brain, strengthening language-processing regions and heightening connectivity in other areas.

All these effects together may create what researchers call a “survival advantage.” In other words, the combined effects of stimulating the brain, strengthening connections, increasing feelings of empathy, and learning more about people and the world around us, could all combine to make us more engaged, happier, and healthier people.

So far, it’s only books that seem to have this large effect. Though all reading is beneficial, in this study, it was books (fiction, most likely, the researchers said) that created the best survival advantage.

“We found that reading books provided a greater benefit than reading newspapers or magazines,” said Avni Bavishi, one of the other study authors, revealed to The Guardian. “We uncovered that this effect is likely because books engage the reader’s mind more – providing more cognitive benefit, and therefore increasing the lifespan.”

read-fireplaceEncourage Others to Read for Their Health!

Book readers now have yet another reason to enjoy their passion—it may help them live longer!

And please, spread the word. Most people who don’t read don’t really want to be told that they’re missing out, but these study results may just give them the motivation they need to think twice about their habits.

If it’s your kids you’re trying to convince, try restricting television and/or computer and tablet time. A little boredom can go a long way to making reading more attractive.

What do you think of this study?

Sources
Avni Bavishi, et al., “A chapter a day: Association of book reading with longevity,” Social Science & Medicine, September 2016; 164:44-48, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953616303689.

Nicholas Bakalar, “Read Books, Live Longer?” New York Times, August 3, 2016, http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/08/03/read-books-live-longer/?_r=0.

Gregory S. Berns, et al., “Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain,” Brain Connectivity, 2013; 3(6): 590-600, http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/pdf/10.1089/brain.2013.0166.

Alison Flood, “Book up for a longer life: readers die later, study finds,” The Guardian, August 8, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/aug/08/book-up-for-a-longer-life-readers-die-later-study-finds.

Amy Ellis Nutt, “The best reason for reading? Book lovers live longer, scientists say,” The Washington Post, August 9, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/08/09/the-best-reason-for-reading-book-lovers-live-longer-say-scientists/.

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Comments (6)

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  1. I love this new research that helps me justify reading as much fiction as I do. I wonder if reading books over ten hours a week increases one’s lifespan even more.

    • Colleen says:

      Me too, Barbara, and there was a relationship in the study between reading more and experiencing more benefits. As long as you’re still getting in some exercise every day! :O)

  2. Kay Rae Chomic says:

    Makes great sense to me!

  3. What wonderful information, Colleen! While I write a lot about how fiction helps us to connect, and enhances empathy, I had no clue about the living longer part! How wonderful is that!
    I’m going to live forever :)
    Neat post!

    • Colleen says:

      Thanks, Susan! I don’t think most of us did have any idea—this is a recent study, and I imagine few scientists thought to delve into the connection. Maybe more reason to give novels as gifts—”Here’s hoping you’ll live longer!” :O)