Reading books is tied to a longer lifespan, according to a recent set of studies.
Researchers used data on 3,635 people over 50 participating in a large health study who had answered questions about reading.
The scientists divided the sample into three groups: those who read no books, those who read books up to three and a half hours a week, and those who read books more than three and a half hours.
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. They found a similar association among those who read newspapers and periodicals, but it was weaker.
“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,” said the senior author, Becca R. Levy, a professor of epidemiology at Yale. “And the survival advantage remained after adjusting for wealth, education, cognitive ability and many other variables.”
In the paper, the academics write that there are two cognitive processes involved in reading books that could create a “survival advantage”. First, reading books promote the “slow, immersive process” of “deep reading”, a cognitive engagement that “occurs as the reader draws connections to other parts of the material, finds applications to the outside world, and asks questions about the content presented”.
“Cognitive engagement may explain why vocabulary, reasoning, concentration, and critical thinking skills are improved by exposure to books,” they write. Second, books “can promote empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, which are cognitive processes that can lead to greater survival”, they say.
They conclude that “the benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read them … the robustness of our findings suggests that reading books may not only introduce some interesting ideas and characters, it may also give more years of reading.”