Dr. Day is a cardiologist/electrophysiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and currently serves as the president of the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
3 Reasons Why Reading Books Extends Lifespan by 2 Years
A recently published study of 3,635 people shows that reading books extends lifespan by two-years. Could longevity really be that easy? In this article, I’ll review this recent study and then share three reasons why this could actually work.
Reading Books Extends Lifespan Study
Dr. Becca R. Levy and colleagues from Yale University came up with a most fascinating study. As it is well known that education extends life, Dr. Levy and her team wanted to know if there is something about reading that could also add extra years to your life.
To answer these questions, they studied 3,635 people over the course of 12 years. Their main finding in this study was that those people reading books more than 30 minutes a day lived 23% longer. This 23% better survival translated into two extra years of life.
As these types of observational studies are not always accurate, Dr. Levy wanted to make sure they weren’t missing anything big that could possibly skew their results. To this end, they statistically controlled for age, sex, race, education, other medical problems, self-rated health, wealth, marital status, and depression.
Interestingly, they found that what you choose to read matters. For example, those people who read newspapers, magazines, and other things didn’t live any longer than did the non-readers in this study.
Lastly, not only did reading books extend lifespan but the quality of their life was also improved. Book readers enjoyed much better cognitive function over the 12-years of the study when compared to those who read other things or didn’t read at all.
3 Reasons Why Reading Books Extends Lifespan
How is it that reading books extends lifespan? What makes books so special? While there are no clear answers yet, I personally have three reasons why this might be the case.
1. Stress Reduction
Most people read books for pleasure and enjoyment. And, as a byproduct of reading, most people become entranced in their book and forget about their daily stresses. Thus, stress reduction could be the reason why book readers lived longer in this study.
For example, studies show that people who perceive that their lives are always stressful age their telomeres by 10 years. In other words, chronic stress may shorten your life by 10 years.
If a good book can help you reduce stress then that could help explain why reading books extends lifespan. It could also help answer why the potentially stress inducing newspapers and magazines don’t seem to extend life.
2. Cognitive Training
Reading a good book trains the mind. Books require a form of deep concentration. Book readers have to focus on the words, sentence structures, and then draw conclusions that relate to their personal lives.
All of this cognitive training may provide a survival advantage. For example, studies show that someone who has graduated from college is destined to live 9 years longer than someone who never graduated from high school.
When it comes to reading newspapers and magazines, very little brain power is required. Thus, cognitive training is largely absent when reading a newspaper or magazine. While this study didn’t explore Facebook or Internet reading, I suspect the cognitive benefit of Internet surfing is no different than that of a newspaper or magazine.
3. Increased Emotional Intelligence
Lastly, books may improve our emotional intelligence. In other words, as we are immersed in a good book it can enhance our empathy for others as we get into the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the characters in the book. This increased emotional intelligence that comes from empathy may improve our own social connections and promote longevity.
For example, studies show that when it comes to longevity, real social connections may play a larger role than obesity or even smoking. As newspapers and magazines generally don’t foster increased empathy for others, they wouldn’t be expected to have the same survival benefit.
Fiction vs. Non-Fiction Books
One unanswered question from this study is does it matter if your book is fiction or non-fiction? Sadly, Dr. Levy and her team didn’t drill down to find out what types of books offer the greatest longevity benefit. Suffice it to say, both fiction and non-fiction books were included in this study.
Do Audiobooks and Kindle Books Also Offer a Survival Advantage?
Another unanswered question is does the book have to be a traditional book in order to count for a longer lifespan? Personally, I hope it doesn’t matter how you digest the book. As an avid listener of audiobooks during my daily workout and commute, I’m counting on these extra two years of life.
Take Home Message
The key take away from this study is that reading books for more than 30 minutes daily may lengthen your life by two years. In my opinion, reading books has to be one of the easiest ways to extend your life. Whether this life extension benefit is due to stress reduction, cognitive training, or increased emotional intelligence, it isn’t clear yet.
In addition to a longer life, reading books may also help you to enjoy life more. As was observed in this study, book reading not only extended life but also improved cognitive function.
Of course, while it seems very plausible that reading books extends lifespan, this should be taken with a grain of salt. As this was an observational study, there could be many other reasons why book readers live longer.
What is your take on the longevity benefit from book reading? Please leave your thoughts and questions below. As always, I’ll do my best to respond to every question as quickly as I can.
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.