Study Suggests That Reading Books Might Help You Live Longer

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Attention, bibliophiles: You may have already heard that reading reduces stress, makes you smarter, and can help you become a more empathetic, generous person. Now, research provides us with yet another great reason to burrow our noses in a book: It might help us live longer lives.

For the study, which was published online in the journal Social Science & Medicine, Yale researchers wanted to see how reading books and periodicals affects lifespan. Typically, couch potato habits like, say, watching TV are tied with an increased risk of death. But past studies suggest that reading either lowers mortality rates or doesn't affect them at all, the researchers pointed out. 

The scientists examined around 3600 people, ages 50 and up, who were asked questions about their reading habits. The data was taken from a longitudinal Health and Retirement Study sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, The Washington Post reports. The researchers then sorted the subjects into three categories: individuals who didn’t read books at all, people who read up to 3.5 hours a week, and readers who spent more than 3.5 hours with their noses in a book each week.

After adjusting for factors like education, income, and health, the data revealed that, on average, “book readers experienced a 20 percent reduction in risk of mortality over the 12 years of follow-up compared to non-book readers."

The study's detailed findings are even more intriguing. Individuals who read more than 3.5 hours per week were 23 percent less likely to die in the next 12 years. Meanwhile, subjects who only read around one half-hour a day, totaling up to 3.5 hours a week, had their mortality rates reduced by 17 percent.

Not a bookworm? Don’t despair: The study also looked at readers of newspapers and magazines and found that they were 11 percent less likely to die than non-readers if they spent more than seven hours reading each week. 

"We found that book reading provides more of a survival advantage than reading newspapers or magazines," Avni Bavishi, the study’s leader, told CBS News. "We believe this is because books offer stronger cognitive engagement because they're longer and there are more characters, more plots to follow, and more connections to make."

On average, the study concluded, book readers lived 23 months longer than their non-reading counterparts. (Talk about motivation to visit the library!) However, the jury’s still out on how e-books or audiobooks affect longevity, or which genres might be most beneficial for our health.

Also, the Post caveats, the Yale researchers only found an association between book reading and a long life—not a relationship. Plus, CBS points out, people who read books tend to be healthier, richer, and better educated in general, which might lead to a longer life.

More research is needed to support the Yale scientists’ findings, Murali Doraiswamy, a psychiatrist and brain expert at Duke Health, told CBS News. "There are many benefits to reading books such as building empathy and developing the mind," Doraiswamy said. “But it's premature to conclude it prolongs life."