August 6, 2016
Reading books is not only good for the mind, but may also increase longevity, according to a new study.
Researchers wanted to know if there was a “survival advantage” for those who read books, compared to those who do not, or those who read other types of materials.
The study involved 3,635 participants over 50 involved in a larger study that included questions about reading habits, and after adjusting for other factors such as age, sex, education and other variables, it was found that reading books had a measurable effect on mortality.
The researchers divided the participants into three groups: those who read books more than 3.5 hours per week, those who read books less than 3.5 hours per week, and those who read no books at all.
The results were significant.
From the New York Times:
“Compared with those who did not read books, those who read for up to three and a half hours a week were 17 percent less likely to die over 12 years of follow-up, and those who read more than that were 23 percent less likely to die. Book readers lived an average of almost two years longer than those who did not read at all.”
Reading books is better for health than reading magazines or newspapers
When the researchers compared those who read magazines and newspapers to those who did not read at all, they found a similar association, but it was not as strong as that of book readers compared to non-readers.
Lead researcher Becca R. Levy said:
“People who report as little as a half-hour a day of book reading 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.”
The research did not provide answers as to why book readers have a survival advantage, but other studies may provide some clues.
One such study found that reading books, particularly literary fiction, increases a person’s ability to empathize with others. Reading fiction allows a person to understand the emotional state of others.
“Understanding others’ mental states is a crucial skill that enables the complex social relationships that characterize human societies,” said the authors of that study.
Since mental and emotional states also affect physical health, it could be surmised that improving the mind through reading would lead to better physical health.
Other studies have shown that reading books may help in the prevention of Alzheimer’s. Exercising the brain through reading and other mentally challenging activities may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia – which certainly would have an effect on longevity.
Physical books are superior to eBooks
It has also been shown that reading books – especially “physical” books compared to eBooks – can increase relaxation, fight stress and help in getting a good night’s sleep. Reading eBooks on a tablet screen or e-reader, however, may actually have the opposite effect, making it more difficult to go to sleep.
Reading books increases intelligence, fights stress, promotes good sleep and is simply an enjoyable activity for all ages, and it should therefore be no surprise that book reading also adds years to one’s lifespan.
As much as digital technology has seemingly improved our lives, there are some things that are best left to the analog realm, and book reading appears to be one of them.
No e-reader can substitute for the joy of flipping pages, the feeling of holding a real book in your hands or even the smell of printed paper.
So, perhaps it’s a very good idea to use your e-reader only when books are impractical, such as when you’re traveling. The rest of the time it’s far better to read “old-school” style – at least that’s what the experts say, and I, for one, heartily agree with them.