In 2016, Yale researcher first published a study that found a connection between longevity and reading – in other words, people who read live longer. It’s a correlation, but there’s no clear causation (that is, there’s no proof that reading is precisely what adds years to your life). Still, it felt validating for those of us who love the written word. And even better, it’s a free activity (if you have access to a library) that’s available to lots of people!
So, Do People Who Read Live Longer?
In an increasingly digitized world, it might be easy to dismiss reading as a leisurely pastime of bygone eras. Yet, plenty of people still do it. So, researchers from Yale University’s School of Public Health decided to expore the benefits of reading to try and understand whether engaging in this mental exercise could have real, tangible effects on longevity.
The study analyzed data from 3,635 individuals aged 50 and above. It divided them into three groups.
1) those who didn’t read books
2) those who read for up to three and a half hours a week,
3) and those who read more than that.
The results? Book readers, regardless of gender, wealth, education, or health, had a 20% reduction in risk of mortality over a 12-year period compared to non-book readers!
Even reading less than 3.5 hours per week benefitted. Reading came with a significant survival advantage over those who didn’t read at all.
Why Does Reading Enhance Longevity?
The exact mechanisms that would explain why people who read live longer are still being explored. But the hypothesis is as fascinating as the result itself.
Reading books, particularly those with complex narratives, demands cognitive engagement and promotes empathetic understanding and emotional intelligence. This intellectual stimulation boosts brain power, much like how physical exercise strengthens the body.
Reading can also provide a healthy form of escapism, reducing stress, and promoting better mental health. This “workout” for the mind might increase resilience against age-related cognitive decline and diseases, leading to an overall longer lifespan.
Not All Reading Is Equal
While all reading is beneficial, the study found that reading books, as opposed to magazines or newspapers, provided a larger survival advantage. This could be because books involve more immersive and cognitive processes, like the use of imagination and critical thinking. They also encourage the reader to make connections between different plot elements spread out over hundreds of pages, creating a greater neural stimulus.
We know what you’re wondering. We’re wondering about it too. What about reading online or on an e-reader? And researchers aren’t sure. But older research found that people who read physical books were more engaged and remembered more plot points. However, we need more research – and those results wouldn’t apply to everyone anyway.
Further research is needed to solidify the connection and understand the exact mechanisms behind why people who read live longer. For instance, how different genres might impact longevity is still an open question. Does a suspense thriller provide the same benefit as a heartfelt romance?
And, of course, as digital reading becomes more popular, future research will need to explore whether reading eBooks – or even listening to audiobooks – provides the same benefits as “traditional reading.”