What would you do to extend your life?
Different studies tell you conflicting things, but one of the most surprising ways of living longer just might be reading.
One study conducted on 3,635 participants found that readers were 20 percent less likely to die in the upcoming 12-year period than those who do not read.
The cognitive benefits are evident, and studies show that reading helps to reduce stress and increase your vocabulary, but what about helping you to live longer?
Although it isn’t as simple as it sounds, we are going to take a closer look and see if people who read live longer.
Let’s Start With Some of The Statistics
The study conducted by Yale University took a look at how reading books and other factors can influence lifespan. Some of the findings included the following:
- Book readers are believed to live for an average of two years longer than those who do not read.
- Books were more advantageous for longevity than magazines and newspapers.
- Reading is beneficial regardless of gender, education, wealth or education.
The study focused on three groups who were all over 50 years old: one group that did not read at all, and those who read more than 3.5 hours a week as well as those who read up to 3.5 hours a week.
The study found that 12 years later 33 percent of nonreaders had died, and 27 percent of book readers had died. One of the more poignant outtakes from the study is the fact it required as little as 30 minutes a day to increase lifespan and the longer they read correlated to the length that they lived.
One of the contributors to the study, Avni Bavishi, commented on the difference between reading books and that of magazines, and newspapers, adding that they were impressed with the magnitude of the difference of effect between the two.
Part of this is because books are engaging. They require higher levels of concentrations and for the reader to use their imagination. Thus readers exercise their brain more. To quote an excerpt from the study, ‘’Reading books provides a survival advantage due to the immersive nature that helps maintain cognitive status.”
There is no reference to the type of books that participants read, although most of these are novels because they are the most common choice for many people.
Still, it would be interesting to see if there is a correlation between genres and longer life.
The study says that reading gives you a higher survival advantage because reading books involves a state of deep reading. You can absorb the information and apply it to the outside world.
Why Do Non Readers Not Live As Long?
The Yale University paper mentions that activities such as watching television can contribute to the risk of death.
Because reading does not work your brain in the same way, it is mostly left to decline when watching television. The same goes for your overall health, and if you are choosing sitting and watching over exercise, then this is not kind on your body.
Our brains need stimulation and since one of the researchers on the paper Becca Levy commented that ‘’Individuals over the age of 65 spend an average of 4.4 hours per day watching television. Efforts to redirect leisure time into reading books could prove to be beneficial.’’
What Are The Health Benefits Of Reading?
We’ve looked at prolonging life, but what else can reading do for our health?
Since low literacy rates in the USA cost the healthcare industry more than $70 million every year, there is a real need for more active readers.
Firstly, reading can reduce stress by up to 68 percent according to one study. The paper that found just six minutes can make a big difference to how you feel.
This study, from the University of Sussex, found that reading slows heart rate and relaxes muscles. It also suggests that reading is better at reducing stress levels than listening to music or drinking a cup of tea.
The theory behind this is that reading absorbs the mind in a different world that allows people to escape their anxiety. Reading a newspaper might not have the same effect though because many stories can add further stress.
Reading Prologues Brain Health
It shouldn’t be surprising, but reading is beneficial for your memory.
Because you have to memorize complicated plot twists and character names, it can stretch your brain.
As complicated as some books can be, your brain does a great job of deciphering what is happening. Figuring and deciphering increase your memory capacity and keep your mind sharp when it comes to short-term memory. Reading helps people to remember everyday things that they may forget from time to time.
Creating new memories in the brain creates new neurological pathways.
Your memory also benefits from the fact that some research has shown that reading can decrease the rate that our mental state declines, including memory.
Another study by Rush University Medical Center, Chicago states that “frequent cognitive activity across the lifespan has an association with slower late-life cognitive decline.”
So, keeping an active brain is essential for extended brain health. The study was on nearly 300 elderly participants for six years. Upon their death, the scientists examined participants’ brains for evidence of dementia.
The readers were less likely to show signs of mental decline.
Reading Can Make You Happier
Reading is different from other forms of escapism.
Too much television, for example, is linked to depression, but reading can lift your mood. By taking your mind into a different place, reading can leave you in a better position than you were before you started reading.
Changing your mood, of course, depends on the type of literature you read. If you pick up a book about someone’s inspiring experience, then you are more likely to feel good after reading it than if you were reading a book with darker themes.
Because you get into a calm, meditative-like state, it leaves the reader feeling relaxed and happier.
The problem, of course, is that not everyone enjoys reading. For some people, it feels like a chore and takes them away from things they would instead be doing. These activities might be the likes of watching TV or scrolling through their phones, which don’t make them a better alternative.
New readers may need to find a genre that captures their attention and keeps them turning pages. If you are forcing yourself to read when you don’t want to, it could have the opposite effect.
Those who read for enjoyment will find that they get what they want from it.
Also when considering if reading can make you happier, it is important to note that if you are currently looking for a book to put you in a better mood, then there are self-help books available that were written to do exactly that.
Reading Helps Us Sleep Better
The 2009 study by the University of Sussex also looks at the impact of reading before sleep.
It found that this practice can help you to deal with insomnia. It helps to clear your mind of the day’s activities. Dwelling on your day may otherwise cause you to worry or overthink and puts your brain into a different state.
Clearing the mind is more conducive to sleep and offers a much healthier alternative to looking at your phone in the minutes before you rest. The blue light from your screen stops you from producing melatonin, which you need to for a good night’s rest.
Reading offers an alternative that is much kinder on your body and will help it to get a much better nights sleep.
Reading can turn into a regular ritual that signals to your body that you are getting ready to rest. The above is most beneficial when you use a printed book instead of an ebook. The blue light from devices still has a negative impact on sleep patterns.
Does Reading Help You Relax?
It certainly does!
We have already discussed how reading slows your heart rate and helps you to feel a sense of calm. Also, the subject you read about can influence the way you feel to make you super relaxed.
Self-help books and spiritual texts both leave the reader in a peaceful state.
Does Reading Make You Social?
This links back to survival, those with a positive social network have been found to live longer, and reading can make you more social.
Because reading can make you more empathetic and increase emotional intelligence, you are more likely to build meaningful relationships with others.
One study by psychologists Emanuele Castano and David Comer Kidd showed how reading novels was found to increase emotional intelligence.
The study involved 18- to 75-year-olds split into three groups. One group got nonfiction to read, another got excerpts from selected novels, and a final group was nonreaders.
After reading, they were asked to match a photo of a pair of eyes to an emotion. The fiction readers were considered better at reading people’s feelings.
Reading itself can be social as well. With many book clubs in every town, there is often a group of people reading just about every genre you can think of. Book clubs are a great way to meet up, discuss your thoughts and meet like-minded people.
Reading groups make people feel more confident and help them to practice social skills. Practicing skills is great for people who might otherwise be lacking.
Reading helps you to practice Theory of Mind. This theory helps you to better understand thoughts, feelings, and other people’s mental states.
One study from The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, found that social networks are as crucial for the physical well-being as exercise.
It found that those who were not socially active were more likely to be obese. So, anything that can help you to build relationships should be considered good for your health.
People who read live longer.
Reading alleviates stress, which in itself can help you live longer and feel happier. Because reading can also help you to build social relationships, it invokes a sense of well-being and can help you add years to your life.
There are many health benefits to reading, but forming the habit is the hard part if you are not an avid reader. The benefits require you to get into a deep reading state, and you can achieve this state only if you are genuinely absorbed in what you read.
To wrap this up, people who read can get the following benefits:
- They can live for an average of two years longer than those who do not read.
- Reduced levels of stress: Just six minutes can mean 68 percent less stress.
- Better social connectivity, which can result in better health
- A better night’s sleep
- Prolonged brain health
- More happiness
Of course, reading isn’t the only way of getting these benefits, but it just might be one of the easiest and most satisfying ways of increasing your lifespan and health.
We always recommend that you examine how you feel after reading. If it feels like it is having a positive effect, then continue and see where it takes you. It might give you the chance to fit more books into your life.
If you want to read more but don’t have the time, summaries can help. Check out our review on Blinkist to see how it can help you.
With all these benefits, you’ll definitely want to start a reading habit and be a better reader. So if you don’t already read regularly, why not start now?