A recent study investigated whether reading books is better for the aging brain than reading magazines.
The researchers looked at data from a longitudinal study on aging in Sweden that took place over 15 years. They compared book and magazine reading habits with episodic recall and verbal fluency abilities in more than 1,100 participants with an average age of 68.8. Participants were categorized as infrequent book readers if they reported reading books only a few times a month, occasionally, or never, while frequent book readers were those who reported reading books more than once a week or daily. Magazine reading was categorized in the same way. Participants completed questions every five years, resulting in four data points.
Results showed that after controlling for age, gender, and education level, frequent book reading but not frequent magazine reading was related to better episodic recall and verbal fluency at each time point, compared to infrequent book or magazine reading. However, episodic recall and verbal fluency ability tended to decline at the same rate for frequent and infrequent book or magazine readers. In other words, frequent book reading helped to compensate for cognitive decline, but not to prevent it.
The researchers also examined a subsample of 79 men for which young adult level of intelligence was available. Results from this subsample suggested that the beneficial effect from book reading can be explained by higher intelligence in young adulthood. While this is an important finding, this was based on a limited sample and should be investigated further.
This study provided more evidence that keeping one’s mind engaged is good for cognitive health. In this case, book reading was beneficial for cognitive health in older adults, although it may not protect from cognitive decline. Additionally, the finding that frequency of magazine reading was not associated with cognitive ability indicates that the type of reading one engages in is important. While the inclusion of early life intelligence complicated these findings, more research is needed to confirm the role that intelligence plays.
Sörman DE, Ljungberg JK, and Rönnlund M. Reading habits among older adults in relation to level and 15-year changes in verbal fluency and episodic recall. Frontiers in Psychology (2018); 9: 1872.