Good news for those of us who love to read. As well as developing complex social skills, regular readers can now expect to live longer! However, not all reading material adds years to your life…
Those Who Live To Read, Live Longer
Researchers at Yale University found that bookworms tend to live longer than the more book-shy. Previous research has hinted that reading may confer health benefits, despite it being a sedentary activity. And we all know that being sedentary is bad! So why the mixed results with reading?
Unfortunately the existing research didn’t provide answers, but the researchers at Yale had a hunch. Most of the previous studies did not distinguish between the type of reading material that people consumed. The Yale researchers thought that book readers might have an advantage over readers of newspapers and magazines due to the immersive nature of novels.
To test this, they followed the fortunes of 3,635 people, aged 50 and up for a twelve year period. There were three distinct groups: those who did not read regularly, those who read up to 3.5 hours a week and those who read for longer than 3.5 hours a week.
The results were startling. On average the regular readers were 20% less likely to die than the non-readers. And the more you read the better the odds. Those who read up to 3.5 hours a week reduced their risk of death by 17%. Those in the “over 3.5 hours” category had a 23% reduction in mortality. To put this in context, the authors state that book readers have “a 23-month survival advantage”. Nearly an extra two years of life for 30 minutes of reading a day!
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Interestingly, while this survival advantage also applies to readers of newspapers and magazines, it is not nearly as strong. No matter how often they read periodicals, books reduce your mortality more.
The Death-defying Power Of Books
Why are books better? The researchers think that two factors may be at play.
First off, books involve “deep reading”, which is a slow process. We get immersed in reading, we see connections with the real world and the process can make us think more. We can sometimes work through our own real problems through the adventures of fictional characters. Reading boosts our reasoning critical thinking skills and concentration levels.
Secondly, books help us to become empathetic and improve our emotional intelligence. This in turn has been shown to make people happier and improves less stressed.
Of course there are some glaring questions not answered by the research: what type of books are best for longevity? Fact or fiction? Are physical books better than electronic?
More research is needed to answer these questions. However, 87% of readers prefer fiction and that is likely to be replicated in the study.
The researchers note that adults over the age of 65 in the US spend an average of 4.4 hours watching TV. Devoting 30 minutes of that to reading could be an easy way to increase their health outcomes.