When we hear the words “healthy body”, what comes to mind? We may start thinking about healthy diet, proper hydration, exercise, healthy weight as well as limiting things like smoking, negative emotions and too much alcohol. But when we think about all that goes with enjoying a healthy body, reading books probably doesn’t come close to making the list. Of course, most of us realize that reading books stimulates the mind, expands vocabulary, helps improve writing skills and is even a good form of entertainment – but including reading books as part of a health protocol might catch us by surprise. Let’s take a look at some new research indicating reading books could be vital to longevity and good health.
Reading Statistics in the USA
In 2017, people in the U.S. 15 years and older spent an average of 16.8 minutes a day reading (not including for work or school), according to a survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is down from 22.8 minutes in 2005.
Women read more than men, 19.8 minutes per day compared to 13.2, with men’s reading time declining more quickly than that of women. Those in the U.S. aged 20–34 read the least, with an average of 6.6 minutes per day, with teenagers reading 1.8 minutes more. Those 75 and older read the most, with an average of 51 minutes per day.
The new research I’m talking about was done at the Yale University School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut and in-a-nutshell it found that spending time reading a good book every day could be associated with living a longer life.
The cohort consisted of 3635 participants in the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, who provided information about their reading patterns.
All participants provided information about their reading habits over a period of 12 years. Researchers analyzed every participant’s daily reading time in comparison with their health records for the duration of the study. Participants were classified into three groups based on the total time they spent reading. The individual groups consisted of 1) no regular reading, 2) those who reported reading books for up to 3.5 hours per week, and 3) those who reported reading books for more than 3.5 hours per week.
Research: Final Conclusion
After all of the statistics were compiled, the final conclusion was that reading books contributed to a survival advantage that was significantly greater than that observed for reading newspapers or magazines. These findings remained consistent even after influential factors such as economic status, education level, cognitive ability, etc. were taken into consideration.
It’s interesting to note that the group of participants who read more than 3.5 hours a week, which averages to over 30 minutes a day, had a 23% drop in mortality risk compared to participants who didn’t read. The participants in the reading groups lived an average of two years longer than those in the non-reading group.
And don’t miss this – reading newspapers and/or magazine are not the same as books! Participants who spent time reading newspapers and magazines did present with a longevity benefit, but not nearly as significant as that found in people who read books.
It’s important to know this research was not intended to prove cause and effect; however, it certainly provided good evidence of a link between reading books and longevity. It also underlines previous findings indicating that reading books provides certain health benefits. For example, in 2013 at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, researchers found that reading a stimulating novel may physically improve brain function as well as reduce stress and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
UK Reading Survey
A separate survey of 4,164 adults in the UK, including both those who read and those who don’t, found that adults who read for just 20 minutes a week are 20% more likely to feel satisfied with their lives.
By contrast, non-readers were 28% more likely to report feelings of depression than those who read regularly for pleasure. One in five readers said that reading helps them to feel less lonely.
Senior Lecturer and Deputy Director of the Centre for Research into Reading, University of Liverpool, Josie Billington, helped to conduct this research. She explains that reading can help to improve well-being:
“Reading not only helps to introduce or reconnect readers to wider life systems and more broadly shared meanings. It can also remind people of activities or occupations they once pursued, or knowledge and skills they still possess, helping to restore their sense of having a place and purpose in the world. It can also remind people of activities or occupations they once pursued, or knowledge and skills they still possess, helping to restore their sense of having a place and purpose in the world”, she writes.
Reading a Book With a Busy Lifestyle
Today, most of us have very busy lifestyles thus trying to find time to read may seemingly be difficult. I get that and actually experience the same difficulty. However, most of us also spend a good amount of time each week in what I call “waiting mode” for such things as business/medical appointments, in lines, waiting on children to finish extra curricular activities, etc. Bringing along an interesting book helps to effectively use these “waiting mode” times to get in some reading time and thus, benefit our longevity and health.
One last recommendation about incorporating reading into a busy lifestyle is to turn off the television, computer, cell phone, tablets and any other electronic devices at least one to two hours before actual bed time. This will help to reduce your time spent in front of blue light, which is detrimental to your body’s circadian rhythm which, in the long run, can cause other health concerns. You may find that consciously setting aside time to read every day (possibly during those two evening hours before bed) will ultimately help in reducing stress, in elevating mood and in achieving restful sleep. All very good reasons to get started reading a good book, today.
Research & Resources
Bavishi, Avni; et al. “A chapter a day: Association of book reading with longevity.” Social Science & Medicine. September 2016. Accessed 6 August 2016. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953616303689.
Berns, Gregory S.; et al. “Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain.” Brain Connectivity. 1 December 2013. Accessed 7 August 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3868356/.
Friedland, Robert P.; et al. “Patients with Alzheimer’s disease have reduced activities in midlife compared with healthy control-group members.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 6 March 2001. Accessed 7 August 2016. http://www.pnas.org/content/98/6/3440.abstract.
Harvard Health Publications. The Harvard Letter. “Blue Light Has a Dark Side.” Accessed 24 August 2016. http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-sidehttp://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side.