Can Books Really Make Us Live Longer?

A study says yes. Undertaken by researchers from the School of Public Health at Yale University, the experiment concluded that people who read books tend to have a lifespan two years more than those who don’t. Well, apparently, picking up a favourite book and curling up in a cosy corner with a cup of tea is the best thing you can do to live longer. So how does a sedentary activity, a habit that essentially means to stay still for long periods, help increase lifespans?

As per the study, called A Chapter a Day: Association of Book Reading With Longevity, reading confers an advantage. Academician Avni Bavishi led the experiment and conducted on more than three thousand six hundred US citizens. Each one was above 50 years of age. The study lasted for 12 years, and during the follow up it was found that:

  • 33% of non-book readers died
  • While only 27% of book readers passed away

It has to be noted that the reading group was observed to clock in more than 3.5 hours a week of reading. Survival analysis was done on the study subjects and adjustments were made for:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Race
  • Wealth
  • Education
  • Depression
  • Marital Status

Published in the Social Science & Medicine journal in September about three years back, the study made a direct and robust connection between reading and long life.
To make sure that the link was not due to a higher baseline cognition, the test subjects were controlled for it.

The experiment demonstrated that it was reading novels and books that increased brain activity which leads to a survival advantage. It was not a reverse effect, i.e., that high cognition caused people to read more and hence have longevity.

The findings of the Yale study were corroborated by Dr. Vanessa Wong. Based in Hong Kong, the psychiatrist says reading a book can be akin to learning to speak a new language or play an instrument. Like them, maybe reading activates different neural pathways which increases brain activity and hence life.

There is a caveat involved with this finding. Short reads like articles or newspaper do not affect how long a person lives. It is believed that immersing yourself in a tome has a different effect than reading a magazine. Short reads do not stimulate or engage the reader as books do. Furthermore, novels assist the reader in making connections to the world outside by motivating a more in-depth reading. It is these benefits that warrant a healthy cognitive status in people as they keep aging. Because mental activity is vigorous, it somehow affects longevity.

So, anyone who doesn’t read or has fallen out of habit due to any reason at all, it is time to pick those books back. Instead of keeping them on shelves because you are too busy, start carrying them around. You may never know the habit might get inculcated in you. The excuse that ‘you don’t have enough time’ doesn’t apply anymore. The more you read, the more time you will have.

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