Reading for Life: How What You Read Impacts Longevity

Using longitudinal survey data that asked about book and newspaper/magazine reading separately, researchers recently looked at the association of reading with participants’ longevity, as well as which type of reading material had the strongest association with longevity.

The researchers found that those participants who read books had a 23-month survival advantage over those who did not read books. The impact of book reading was actually the strongest among participants who had reported four or more comorbidities. Other demographic differences including income and education level showed little to no differences on the strength of book reading’s association with longevity. Magazine and newspaper reading showed a survival advantage as well, but the effect was not as strong and was only significant for periodical readers who read more than seven hours per week.

The authors suggest two potential ways that reading books might bring about greater health benefits. The first is that books promote “deep reading”, which is more cognitively engaging and demanding. Analysis of the cognitive testing of survey participants did prove enlightening here. Statistically controlling for cognitive scores at baseline showed that the subsequent protective effect of book reading persisted regardless of initial cognitive differences. However, in addition to longevity, book reading had a positive impact on cognitive scores in later surveys. This impact on cognition appears to be responsible for the majority of the improvement in lifespan. The second way the authors suggested that books might provide benefit is by promoting empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, but this hypothesis remains untested.

The authors conclude that “reading books provides a survival advantage due to the immersive nature that helps maintain cognitive status” and that “older individuals, regardless of gender, health, wealth or education, showed the survival advantage of reading books.” So regardless of the population of older adults being served, greater book reading should be encouraged. The authors note that individuals 65 and better spend an average of 4.4 hours per day watching television, and that study participants spent significantly more time reading periodicals than books. So one fruitful strategy would be to replace some TV and magazine/newspaper time with a good book.

Source:

Bavishi A, Slade MD, and Levy BR. A Chapter a Day: Association of Book Reading with Longevity. Social Science & Medicine (2016); 164: 44–48.

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