"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Literature in the News: Reading Books Leads to Longer Life

Well this is good news for me and probably for readers of this blog, who I assume are avid readers.  From The Guardian

Flaubert had it that “the one way of tolerating existence is to lose oneself in literature as in a perpetual orgy”. It turns out that reading doesn’t only help us to tolerate existence, but actually prolongs it, after a new study found that people who read books for 30 minutes a day lived longer than those who didn’t read at all.

The study, which is published in the September issue of the journal Social Science & Medicine, looked at the reading patterns of 3,635 people who were 50 or older. On average, book readers were found to live for almost two years longer than non-readers.

Respondents were separated into those who read for 3.5 hours or more a week, those who read for up to 3.5 hours a week, and those who didn’t read at all, controlling for factors such as gender, race and education. The researchers discovered that up to 12 years on, those who read for more than 3.5 hours a week were 23% less likely to die, while those who read for up to 3.5 hours a week were 17% less likely to die.

So it’s not exercise that leads to longer life but reading!  Three and a half hours per week is not exactly a lot of reading either.  Three and a half hour per week is just half an hour a day.  Would you read half an hour per day to reduce your risk of dying by 17%?  The article continues:

Overall, during follow-up, 33% of non-book readers died, compared to 27% of book readers, write the academics Avni Bavishi, Martin Slade and Becca Levy from the Yale University School of Public Health, in their paper A Chapter a Day: Association of Book Reading With Longevity.

“When readers were compared to non-readers at 80% mortality (the time it takes 20% of a group to die), non-book readers lived 85 months (7.08 years), whereas book readers lived 108 months (9.00 years) after baseline,” write the researchers. “Thus, reading books provided a 23-month survival advantage.”

Bavishi said that the more that respondents read, the longer they lived, but that “as little as 30 minutes a day was still beneficial in terms of survival”.

Twenty-three months longer life is almost two years longer!  So why do you think this might be?  Certainly if you’re home reading books, you’re not climbing Mount Everest, hang gliding off a cliff in Rio de Janeiro, or some other high risk activity and getting killed at a premature age.  That will skew the average life span, but only slightly.  The people wo performed the tst point to increased cognitive ability that one gains from reading.

In the paper, the academics write that there are two cognitive processes involved in reading books that could create a “survival advantage”. First, reading books promote the “slow, immersive process” of “deep reading”, a cognitive engagement that “occurs as the reader draws connections to other parts of the material, finds applications to the outside world, and asks questions about the content presented”.

“Cognitive engagement may explain why vocabulary, reasoning, concentration, and critical thinking skills are improved by exposure to books,” they write. Second, books “can promote empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, which are cognitive processes that can lead to greater survival”, they say.

Well, as much as I would love to believe this, I have my doubts.  That’s not to say that those who read don’t live longer.  I believe that, the data doesn’t lie.  But the study doesn’t control for possible causations.  All it does is show correlation.  As they say in the world of statistics: Correlation does not prove causation. 

Still go ahead and read your four hours per week.  It will be better for you than taking vitamins.

1 comment:

  1. 4 hours per WEEK? I read longer than that before I'm finished with morning coffee.