Can a chapter a day keep the doctor away?
Maybe, according to a new study by Yale University researchers that has found that book readers aren't only smarter, nicer, and more empathetic – they may even live longer. Details about the study were published online in the journal Social Science & Medicine.
The longitudinal study, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, looked at 3,635 subjects over 50 who were divided into three groups: those who didn’t read books, those who read up to 3.5 hours a week and those who read more than 3.5 hours a week.
Even after accounting for variables like health status, education, and income, the study found that those who read more than 3.5 hours per week were 23 percent less likely to die during a 12-year follow-up period. Those who read up to 3.5 hours per week, about 30 minutes per day, were 17 percent less likely to die.
"[B]ook readers experienced a 20 percent reduction in risk of mortality over the 12 years of follow-up compared to non-book readers," the study concluded.
"In other words, just like a healthy diet and exercise, books appear to promote a “significant survival advantage,” as The Washington Post explained.
Of course, there are a few caveats: the research on this is new and it's important to point out that so far it only shows an association between reading and longevity, not necessarily causality.
And the study specified that the longevity benefit lies only with reading books, not newspapers or magazines. “We found that reading books provided a greater benefit than reading newspapers or magazines. We uncovered that this effect is likely because books engage the reader’s mind more – providing more cognitive benefit, and therefore increasing the lifespan,” Yale researcher Avni Bavishi wrote in the study.
Finally, while the book genre being read was never surveyed, the researchers have said they believe most test subjects were reading fiction.
Considering other similar research, the results may not be surprising.
In this case, researchers have concluded two specific reasons why reading books boost longevity. First, deep reading promotes a kind of "slow, immersive process" that leads to cognitive engagement, which helps a reader "draw connections to other parts of the material, find applications to the outside world, and ask questions about the content presented."
“Cognitive engagement may explain why vocabulary, reasoning, concentration, and critical thinking skills are improved by exposure to books,” the researchers write.
Second, books “can promote empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, which are cognitive processes that can lead to greater survival," they say.
Future studies may examine whether there are additional health benefits to reading, whether they benefits are the same for readers of e-books and audiobooks, and whether the benefits change depending on the genre.
In the meantime, book lovers have one more reason to keep reading.