Jobs and the Future of Work

Want to live longer? Read a book

A woman reads a book at her open air book store in Skopje April 24, 2014. Macedonians will cast their ballots on Sunday April 27 in the second round of the presidential vote, overshadowed by the general elections.

Reading magazines or newspapers didn’t have the same effect. Image: REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Rachel Hallett
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Neuroscience

Could a bit of light reading every day add years to your life?

A new study by Yale University found that reading books was positively correlated with increased lifespan -- people who read books lived for around two years longer than those who didn’t.

Adding a few more pages

In the study, published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, researchers evaluated data on 3,635 Americans aged over 50.

Respondents were separated into those who read for 3.5 hours or more a week, those who read for up to 3.5 hours a week, and those who didn’t read at all, controlling for factors such as gender, race and education.

The researchers discovered that those who read for more than 3.5 hours a week were 23% less likely to die within 12 years, while those who read for up to 3.5 hours a week were 17% less likely to die within that period.

Co-author of the study, Becca R. Levy, Professor of Epidemiology at Yale University, told the New York Times, “People who report as little as a half-hour a day of book reading had a significant survival advantage over those who did not read.”

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Have you read?

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The other benefits

The researchers found that people who read books showed stronger cognitive abilities, such as recall and counting backwards.

However, reading magazines or newspapers didn’t have the same effect unless readers spent more than seven hours on the activity each week. This was associated with an 11% reduction in mortality.

It is not clear why there is such a strong association between reading and longevity although previous studies have suggested that people who read books tend to be healthier, richer, and better educated in general, all of which could contribute to a longer life.

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.

Josie Billington, Senior Lecturer and Deputy Director of the Centre for Research into Reading, University of Liverpool, 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," she writes.

"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."

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