Bookworms May Have Better Life Expectancy

AUGUST 09, 2016
Ryan Marotta, Assistant Editor
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” mused a character in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.
 
Although life expectancy in Martin’s fantasy franchise is infamously low, a recent study has good news for bookworms in the real world: readers may live an average of about 2 years longer.
 
The study published in Social Science & Medicine evaluated data on the reading patterns of 3635 patients 50 years and older. The participants were separated into one of 3 groups: those who read for 3.5 hours or more each week, those who read for up to 3.5 hours each week, and those who didn’t read at all.
 
Over a 12-year follow-up period, 27% of readers and 33% of nonreaders passed away. After accounting for factors such as gender, race, and education, the research team determined that participants who read for up to 3.5 hour a week were 17% less likely to die than those who didn’t read at all, while more avid readers were 23% less likely to die than no-readers.
 
“When readers were compared to nonreaders at 80% mortality (the time it takes 20% of a group to die), non-book readers lived 85 months (7.08 years), whereas book readers lived 108 months (9.00 years) after baseline,” the study authors wrote. “Thus, reading books provided a 23-month survival advantage.”
 
The researchers noted that books were more strongly linked to longevity than newspapers or magazines. They also suggested that book reading engages higher cognitive processes and promotes empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, all of which can lead to improved survival.
 
The study authors acknowledged that further research is needed to uncover any further health benefits offered by reading, as well as to establish differences between fiction and non-fiction or various genres. They also expressed interest in better understanding the health effects of e-books and audiobooks, which are more likely to be read in a nonsedentary manner. Fortunately, bibliophiles can offset the risks associated with long periods of sitting by supplementing their daily reading with an hour of physical activity.
 
Pointing to previous studies in which participants 65 years and older were found to spend more than 4 hours a day watching television, the researchers ultimately encouraged patients, especially older ones, to consider spending their leisure time behind a book rather than in front of a TV.
 
“The benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read them,” the study authors concluded. “The robustness of our findings suggests that reading books may not only introduce some interesting ideas and characters; it may also give more years of reading.”


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