It’s generally accepted these days that reading a book will help you relieve stress, and it may actually make you a more empathetic person as you learn to connect with the various characters. But there’s more. A new study published in August 2016 in the online journal Social Science & Medicine determined that reading more than 3.5 hours per week actually increased a person’s lifespan by 23 percent – about 12 years for the subjects involved in the study.
The study was conducted by a group of researchers at Yale University, and they obtained their data from a longitudinal Health and Retirement Study sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. The study looked at 3,635 subjects, both men and women but all older than 50, whom the researchers divided into three categories: those who didn’t read books, those who read up to 3.5 hours a week (about ½ hour per day), and those who read more than 3.5 hours a week.
After the researchers adjusted for factors like education, health, and income, 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,” according to a report in the Washington Post. Those who read about 3.5 hours were 17 percent less likely to die over the course of the study.
In addition, the study examined people who read newspapers and magazines and found that they were 11 percent less likely to die than non-readers, but only if they spent more than seven hours reading each week. That may be due to the different format of these media, the level of complexity (a newspaper is written at about a 6th grade level), or the tendency to skim the material rather than read it fully. Avni Bavishi, the study’s leader, told CBS News that, “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.”
From all of this, the authors concluded that, as with a healthy diet and exercise, books appear to promote a “significant survival advantage.” It is important to note, though, that the researchers only found an association between reading and longevity, not a relationship.
Clearly there is a need for more study. Murali Doraiswamy, a psychiatrist and brain expert at Duke Health, told CBS News that “There are many benefits to reading books such as building empathy and developing the mind, but it’s premature to conclude it prolongs life.”
We’re certain that book lovers all around the world will not find it a hardship to provide the data needed to make additional conclusions.