Pick up a book and add years to your life

Book lovers lived almost two years longer than those who didn’t crack open a book in a new study conducted by Yale researchers and sponsored by the National Institute on Aging.

For this study, researchers followed 3,635 participants over age 50 for 12 years. They divided the participants into three groups: those who didn’t read books, those read books for up to 3.5 hours per week, and those who read books for more than 3.5 hours per week.

Overall, the researchers found a very strong link between reading books and lower death rates. There was even a dose-response effect. In other words, the more a person read weekly, the lower their death rate.

In fact, those who read a book up to 3.5 hours per week had a 17 percent lower death rate compared to non-readers. And those who read more than 3.5 hours per week had a 23 percent lower death rate. These improvements in longevity from reading are just as strong as for healthy diets, exercise and lifestyle.

Of course, evidence does typically associate higher education levels with lower death rates. Likewise, people with higher education might be expected to read more. But the researchers controlled for all these factors such as education level, socio-economic status, and even health status.

So what did account for these strong benefits of reading?

On the one hand, book reading is essentially a sedentary activity. You typically read sitting down or even lying down. Of course, you can take a book outside, on the porch, or deck, or under a tree, or even by a babbling brook. These are arguably healthier environments and activities than being glued in front of a TV screen (or computer screen). But still, book reading is not a physically active pursuit, so you are not “exercising” the body.

On the other hand, reading is good for the brain. And staying mentally active helps prevent and even control dementia. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia typically are not immediately life-threatening illnesses, but they are generally associated with decreased longevity. Other recent research showed that reading novels appears to boost both brain connectivity and empathy.

I shared these findings about reading books with my editors at Springer Publishers, which publishes some of my new medical textbooks. My editors are real book lovers. And my senior editor, Janice Stern, quickly responded: “I’m not surprised by the results of the study. When one is reading a book (well, most books), one is not worrying about other things, or trying to achieve or prove something.”

And there it is…

Reading a book reduces stress

Book reading reduces stress and encourages relaxation.

In fact, a 2009 study at the University of Sussex found that reading can reduce stress by up to 68 percent. It worked better and faster than other relaxation methods, such as listening to music, drinking a hot cup of tea, and even taking a walk.

Plus, it works quickly,

In the study, subjects only needed to read silently for six minutes to slow down their heart rate and ease tension in their muscles.

Unfortunately, America barely cracks the top 25 when it comes to which countries read the most books. India, Thailand, and China rank No. 1, 2, and 3 by the World Culture Index. The U.S. comes in at number 23, behind Australia, Egypt, Germany, and Turkey.

We also think of the younger generations as no longer knowing what a book is. But according to a Pew Research Center survey, 80 percent of young adults in America read a book last year. (Perhaps the ones required to do so in an educational course.)

By comparison, only 68 percent of people between the ages of 50 and 64 read a book last year.  And they appear to be the ones who need it most, at least when it comes to longevity.

The authors concluded that reading books appears to confer a “significant survival advantage.”

And any book will do. (You can always start with Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Whether or not you end up living longer, it will seem like it!)

But if you want to read some books that can help you live longer and help you reduce your risk of chronic diseases, visit my website at www.drmicozzi.com.

 

Sources:

“The best reason for reading? Book lovers live longer, scientists say,” Washington Post (www.washingtonpost.com) 8/9/2016

“Reading ‘can help reduce stress’,” The Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk) 3/30/2016


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