Read books, live longer

According to a new study in social science and medicine, reading books is tied to a longer life.

Sitting for hours has gotten a pretty bad rap of late, and by now most people know that a sedentary lifestyle leads to all sorts of health problems. But new research shows there’s at least one thing you can do during all that time off your feet that’s actually good for you: read a book.

Researchers at Yale University School of Public Health have found that book readers have a “significant survival advantage” over those who don’t read books. While the study didn’t address whether reading books on Kindle count, it did find that book readers in general lived an average of two years longer than those who don’t.

The data was obtained from a longitudinal Health and Retirement Study sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. The study looked at 3,635 subjects, all older than 50, whom the researchers divided into three groups: those who didn’t read books, those who read up to 3.5 hours a week and those who read more than 3.5 hours a week.

So the Yale researchers came up with a new hypothesis: Because books tend to present themes and characters in greater length and depth, they wrote in the paper’s introduction, “we speculated that books engage readers’ minds more than newspapers and magazines, leading to cognitive benefits that drive the effect of reading on longevity.” On average, book readers lived 23 months longer than non-book readers. And the fact that the findings held true for all types of book readers—men, women, rich, poor—means that the results may have broad implications. 

Why or how that’s the case remains unclear; the research showed only an association between book reading and longevity, not a causal relationship. But the findings are not so surprising. Other recent research showed that reading novels appears to boost both brain connectivity and empathy.

Book buying has increased annually during the past few years. At least 652 million print and electronic books were sold in the United States in 2015, according to Nielsen BookScan, the main data collector for the book publishing industry.

The bad news: Americans barely crack the top 25 when it comes to which countries read the most books. India, Thailand and China are ranked one, two and three by the World Culture Index, while the United States comes in 23rd, behind countries such as Egypt, Australia, Turkey and Germany.

Finally, In future studies, she says, it would be helpful to look more specifically at what kinds of books people are reading, and to look more closely at print, ebooks, and audiobooks to figure out if they have different relationships with longevity.

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