By Colin McCandless, Contributing author
REGION – If you want to stay healthy and live longer, research shows that eating a nutritious diet and maintaining a regular exercise routine, when combined, are two keys to lowering your mortality risk. But what about that Steinbeck novel sitting on your shelf? Can ‘Grapes of Wrath’ do more for your body than just feed your mind?
Books have the power to transport us to faraway places and teach us the universal themes of love, loss, happiness and grief, but a study conducted by the Yale University School of Public Health published in the academic journal Social Science & Medicine also identified a link between reading and longer lifespans. The report’s authors, Avni Bavishi, Martin D. Slade and Becca R. Levy examined whether people who read books enjoy a benefit of greater longevity compared to people who do not read books or read books. other types of content such as periodicals (newspapers and magazines).
The study involved thousands of participants over many years
To investigate, they interviewed a cohort of 3,635 participants in the Nationally Representative Health and Retirement Study conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, asking them to share information about their reading habits. . It followed respondents over a 12-year period from 2001 to 2012, adjusting for variables such as age, gender, race, education, comorbidities, self-rated health status, income , marital status and depression.
Although the authors acknowledged that previous studies had explored the effect of reading on the mortality rate, they noted that none of them had compared the type of reading material. Their hypothesis proposed that reading books would give a person a “survival advantage” over someone who reads magazines and newspapers because of the greater cognitive benefits from the first activity.
They arrived at this hypothesis because of two cognitive processes involved in reading books that they believe contribute to this survival advantage. The first is described as “deep reading,” a form of cognitive engagement that can hone critical thinking skills, vocabulary, reasoning, and concentration. The second is that reading books can boost “empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence,” which the authors say are “cognitive processes that can lead to greater survival.”
Book readers live nearly two years longer
Compared to non-readers, the study found that readers had a 23-month survival advantage over those who avoided books altogether. The advantage persisted when controlling for factors such as age, gender, comorbidities, education, health, and wealth. He found a 20% reduction in mortality among readers compared to non-readers.
What’s more, the results revealed that people who read books for only 30 minutes a day on average – about one chapter a day – “showed a survival advantage” compared to non-readers. And even among study participants who did not read books but still read newspapers and magazines, reading offered a survival advantage.
The authors determined that “the survival advantage was due to the effect reading books had on cognition.” This particular study, however, did not investigate whether e-books or audiobooks can have a similar impact on longevity or examine fiction versus non-fiction readers or specific genres.
Less TV for more reading
Offering recommendations based on their findings, the authors cited a Bureau of Labor Statistics figure indicating that people over the age of 65 watch an average of 4.4 hours of television per day. They advised this demographic to convert some of that screen time into reading books to improve their health and potentially extend their lives.
Since most study participants read periodicals more than books, they also suggested swapping some of those copies of Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal. for books so that individuals can experience the full survival benefits of reading. After all, one chapter a day might just keep the doctor away.