Reading books means you’ll live longer, according to scientists

‘So many books, so little time’ – Frank Zappa


“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” So writes George R.R. Martin in A Song of Ice and Fire (that’s Game of Thrones to you non-book readers, who may not want to read on).

Not only does a reader live a thousand lives, but apparently the actual life that they do live in the real world is said to last longer due to reading, according to a study whose results were reported in the Times.

The results of the study argue that the effort put into “deep reading” – keeping track of plots, characters, their relations and themes over several hundred pages, keeps the brain active and helps people to make decisions into later life which influence it for the better.

Those who read books also appeared to live longer than those who read newspapers and magazines.
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The study, carried out by Yale University academics and published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, looked at 11 years’ worth of data on the health and reading habits of 3600 men and women over the age of fifty, just over a quarter of whom actually died over the course of the survey.

In short, the longer people spent reading books per day, the longer they lived. By the time a fifth of the participants had died, those who read books lived on average almost two years more than the others.

These results even took into account the removal of factors which tend to apply to book readers – they tend to be wealthier, better educated, and therefore have better diets – and still saw a significant difference in life expectancy with those who read books.

The analysis leaves some questions to be answered, however. It did not distinguish between poetry, fiction and non-fiction, nor did it make distinctions between literary genre. For example, there is no conclusive evidence to say that erotic bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey (described by the Telegraph as “troubling and intriguing”) will do better for your health than giant of fiction War and Peace.

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The authors of the study did concede that the majority of the book readers in their study were reading fiction, given that only 13 per cent of book readers read non-fiction.

Furthermore, the study did not include e-books and audiobooks, and did not discover any additional health benefits beyond “extended survival”, but the more life you have, the more chances you get to make it better.

Additionally, the authors of the study are not actually sure why the results are what they are. Lead author Avni Bavishi said: “We believe that reading books engages the brain more than magazines or newspapers, and it’s this cognitive engagement that extends your life expectancy,” Ms Bavishi said. “But we don’t have specific details about exactly what it is about that cognitive engagement.”

Just don’t forget to eat while you binge the whole Sharpe series.