Man at His Best

Read Books, Live Longer

Study finds that reading books increases ‘survival advantage’.

BY Jason S Ganesan | Aug 9, 2016 | Books

Wikipedia Commons

If you’ve been feeling besieged by populist and anti-intellectualist political currents, then prepare to have your refined navel gazing validated.

Not only have researchers said that there is a positive link between playing video games and academic performance, and that watching trashy movies makes you a ‘cultural omnivore’, turns out reading books also makes you live longer.

A study by Avni Bavishi, Martin Slade, and Becca Levy published in Social Science and Medicine found that those who read books lived nearly two years longer than non-readers, regardless of gender, education level, wealth or health.

Reading gave respondents what the researchers call a “survival advantage” of 23 months over non-book readers. After adjusting for age, sex, race, education, comorbidity, health, wealth, marital status, and depression, readers were found to live for an average of 108 months after baseline—baseline being 80 percent mortality, or the time it takes for 20 percent of them to die—compared to 85 months for non-readers.

The 3,635 old folk who made up the respondents (for obvious reasons) were split into groups of those who read for more than 3.5 hours per week, less than 3.5 hours a week, and not at all. After 12 years, those from the first group (> 3.5 hours) were 23 percent less likely to die, while those from the second group (< 3.5 hours) were 17 percent less likely.

In the course of that 12 years, 27 percent of those from the first two groups died, compared to 33 percent from the non-reading third group.

The study emphasises that what you’re reading matters a lot as well. Researchers said that the “slow, immersive process” of reading books provided greater cognitive engagement than newspapers and magazines, because they better engage readers’ minds (cutely, one of the researchers’ conclusions was that reading books makes you live longer so you have more time to read books).

The long-trotted out benefits of reading—including “vocabulary, reasoning, concentration, and critical thinking skills,” as well as “empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence”—were said to be cognitive processes that increase the chances of survival. Which makes sense, since we bothered evolving these traits in the first place.

There’s no data, however, for the brain death that old folk get from reading fake news on Whatsapp and emails in Comic Sans (anecdotal, so don’t cite us). So next time you’re over at your parents’, cancel their cable subscriptions, log them out of Facebook, and get them some books. But only if you like them.