Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Recent Studies Suggest Health Benefits of Reading©

This morning while listening to my favorite “classical music” radio station out of London the DJ mentioned a recent study that suggested that the elderly (50 and over), who read books tend to live longer. As a reader this caught my attention and I searched for the study.  Apparently there are several studies pointing to health benefits of reading. I found two that interested me and which I thought may interest readers of this blog.

The first was done in 2013. It looked at the effects of novel reading on the short- and long-term effects on brain connectivity and found evidence in brain scans for both.(1) The second study, and the focus of this blog was done in 2015 by three researchers at Yale University. They were interested in the possible effects of reading on the length of life compared to the non-reader. The study involved a large population which make the results somewhat more impressive. It included 3,635 men and women, age 50 and over, for 12 years. Two statements from the abstract of the article convey the essence of the findings: “Book reading contributed to a survival advantage that was significantly greater than that observed for reading newspapers or magazines” and “These findings suggest that the benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read them.”(2)

Just how much of an advantage did reading give the reader vs. the non-reader? Well, compared with adults who did not read books, those who read books for up to 3 ½ hours each week were 17 percent less likely to die over the 12-year follow-up, while those who read for more than 3 ½ hours weekly were 23 percent less likely to die.  
This study found that those who read books for an average of 30 min per day say, a chapter a day showed a survival advantage, compared to those who did not read books. The robustness of our findings suggest that reading books may not only introduce some interesting ideas and characters, it may also give more years of reading.(3)
Incidentally, as mentioned above reading books was better than reading newspapers and magazine articles.  The authors had some reasons why.
Reading books tends to involve two cognitive processes that could create a survival advantage. First, it promotes “deep reading,” which is a slow, immersive process; this cognitive engagement occurs as the reader draws connections to other parts of the material, finds applications to the outside world, and asks questions about the content presented. Cognitive engagement may explain why vocabulary, reasoning, concentration, and critical thinking skills are improved by exposure to books.Second, books can promote empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, which are cognitive processes that can lead to greater survival. Better health behaviors and reduced stress may explain this process.(4)
The results of this study led the authors to make some suggestions for older readers.
Individuals over age 65 spend an average of 4.4 hours per day watching television (Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014)). Efforts to redirect leisure time into reading books could prove to be beneficial in terms of survival for this population. Also, participants in the study spent considerably more time reading periodicals than reading books; since the survival advantage is significantly stronger for book reading, switching from reading periodicals to books, or adding book reading to daily activities, might be worthwhile.(5)
There is one other bit of good news for book lovers and readers which I encountered in this search. That is, that the number of published hard-copy books sold has risen from about 559 million in 2014 to  571 million sold in 2015.  This compared to the rather static market for e-books.(6)

So, all around good news for older readers.  

Let’s think together again, soon.


1.  Gregory S.Berns, Kristina Blaine, Michael J. Prietula, and Brandon E. Pye.  “Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain,” Brain Connectivity 3, no. 6 (2013): 590-600.
Available online at:  http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/pdf/10.1089/brain.2013.0166

2.  Avni Bavishi, Martin D. Slade, and Becca R. Levy, “A Chapter a Day: Association of Book Reading with Longevity,” Social Science & Medicine 164, (September 2016): 44-48, emphasis added.  I do not know if this article is available for free online.  I accessed it through a paid online service.

3.  Avni Bavishi, et al., 47, emphasis added.

4.  Avni Bavishi, et al., 44, internal references omitted.

5.  Avni Bavishi, et al., 47, emphasis added.

6.  Hillel Italie, “From Coloring Books to Harper Lee, a Good Year For Paper,” AP The Big Story, 16 December 2015.  Online at:  

1 comment:

  1. I found the comparison between the reading of books versus periodicals interesting. Here's to more reading! Thanks!