Reading is Fundamental to Health
When you think about all of the elements that make up a healthy lifestyle, you probably start with the basic building blocks of regular exercise and a nutritious diet. Next you might consider maintaining a normal weight, staying away from vices such as smoking and heavy drinking, and managing stress levels. But chances are good that one thing that wouldn’t make your list is being an avid reader. However, according to new research, reading books might be vital to your health.
The study, which was conducted at the Yale University School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut, found that spending time immersed in a good book every day may be associated with living a longer life.1 The subjects were 3,635 men and women over the age of 50. All of them were taking part in the Health and Retirement Study, which is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.
The participants provided information on their typical reading habits throughout the 12-year period that they were tracked. The scientists analyzed every volunteer’s daily reading time in comparison with their health records for the duration of the study. Each of the subjects was classified into a group based on their time spent reading. These groups consisted of the individuals who reported no regular reading, those who reported reading books for up to three-and-a-half hours per week, and those who reported reading books for more than three-and-a-half hours per week.
Once the statistics were compiled, the researchers came to the conclusion that a greater amount of time spent reading was strongly associated with a longer life. And these findings remained consistent even after they controlled for potentially influential factors including economic status, education level, cognitive ability, and more.
Participants in the middle-of-the-road group who read for up to three-and-a-half hours a week, or close to 30 minutes a day, were found to have a 17 percent lower risk of dying than their peers who were not reading regularly. And the group who read for more than three-and-a-half hours a week, or an average of over 30 minutes a day, were shown to have a 23 percent drop in mortality risk compared to their counterparts who did not read. The people in the reading groups lived an average of two years longer than those in the non-reading group.
While there was no breakdown of potential effects of different genres of books (might self-help book readers live longer than romance novel enthusiasts?), there was a distinction made between those who read books versus other reading materials. People who prefer to spend their time reading newspapers and magazines had a longevity benefit, but it was not as significant as that found in people who read books.
The research was not designed to prove cause and effect, but it certainly did provide evidence of a link between reading books and a longer life. And this result adds to the findings of prior investigations showing health-related advantages to reading. For instance, a 2013 study at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia found that reading an exciting novel may physically improve the function of your brain.2 It has also been linked with reducing stress and lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.3
For those of you who struggle with time management throughout your busy days, finding a half hour to read might seem daunting. After a long day of working, taking care of other responsibilities, and squeezing in a workout, who has time to sit down with a book? But making time for reading might be easier than you think. If you take public transportation to work, a book can make your travel time go much faster. And keeping a book with you when running errands will ease the pain of waiting on long lines in a store.
Just as you made physical activity a priority, you can do the same to incorporate a half-hour of reading into your day. Another really easy way to incorporate reading is to end screen time 30 minutes earlier every night. Shutting down the television, your computer, cell phone, and any other electronic devices well before going to bed is a good idea anyway since the light emitted from the screens messes with our internal clocks and disrupts sleep. You won’t be missing anything on social media, and you may just find that reading is a new healthy habit you love.
- 1. Bavishi, Avni; et al. "A chapter a day: Association of book reading with longevity." Social Science & Medicine. September 2016. Accessed 6 August 2016. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953616303689.
- 2. Berns, Gregory S.; et al. "Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain." Brain Connectivity. 1 December 2013. Accessed 7 August 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3868356/.
- 3. Friedland, Robert P.; et al. "Patients with Alzheimer's disease have reduced activities in midlife compared with healthy control-group members." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 6 March 2001. Accessed 7 August 2016. http://www.pnas.org/content/98/6/3440.abstract.