Living and Aging Well

Reading has profound, positive health benefits

Column by Tiffany Curtin
Posted 2/5/19

Many readers prefer reading books printed on paper. We like the smell of the book, the feel of the weight of the book, and the shhh sound as we run our fingers across the pages. We feel engaged in …

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Living and Aging Well

Reading has profound, positive health benefits

Posted

Many readers prefer reading books printed on paper. We like the smell of the book, the feel of the weight of the book, and the shhh sound as we run our fingers across the pages. We feel engaged in life as we read. Now, there are studies that show that reading books is keeping us alive longer.

The act of reading books may prolong not only our memory and help keep us mentally sharp, but it also may lead to a longer life. A study published in the Journal of Social Science & Medicine in September 2016 found astonishing results. Reading books for 30 minutes per day or more has been shown to prolong life on average by 23 additional months. Reading books for up to 30 minutes per day also had some positive correlations to longevity as compared to non-book readers and non-readers. Solely reading newspaper articles and magazines did not show the same results as reading books. This is likely because reading books provides cognitive challenges and greater engagement with characters’ lives over a longer period than reading articles does.

Many of us may think of reading as a solitary activity. In many ways, it is. Reading is also an activity that helps us develop our empathy and get to know countless characters intimately through both fiction and non-fiction. Anyone who enjoys reading has laughed, cried, and even become angry at the characters in our favorite books. Many of us look for series that bring back the same characters who become like friends. This is how books help us develop empathy and understand our fellow human beings with different life experiences. This keeps our brains active, engaged, and challenged with critical thinking skills.

There is also a good deal of current research that correlates social interaction to longevity. Reading may be a part of that. The act of reading, both non-fiction as well as fiction, opens up our minds and helps us empathize with our changing world and those around us. A shared reading experience, such as joining or starting a book club or simply discussing our favorite books, allows us the common ground of a shared reading experience and the opportunity to talk, laugh, and cry together.

If you are just getting started with reading more, ask your friends, family or a librarian for some recommendations to find the right book for you. Most book lovers have experienced starting a book that may not have been right for them, in which case they set that one aside after giving it a chance and try another one.

The study that is the basis of this article was limited to books printed on paper and suggests that additional research is needed for audio books and eBooks. However, if eBooks are easier because they allow you to adjust the font and background color to your liking, among other features, download the books on your device! What is most important is the act of reading and mentally engaging with the story.

Tiffany Curtin is the Adult Literacy Specialist for Douglas County Libraries. For additional information, please contact tcurtin@dclibraries.org. To learn more, please attend the upcoming presentation and interactive discussion as noted below. This column is hosted by the Seniors’ Council of Douglas County. Please join us for our next meeting on March 7, 2019 at Pine Grove Crossing, 19160 Cottonwood Drive, Parker. Our presentation and community conversation will begin at 10:15 a.m. Shannon Basher, Douglas County Librarian, will be guest speaker and will be presenting The Health Benefits of Reading. She will reveal the results of recent studies showing numerous health benefits of reading. For more information, go to MyDougCoSeniorLife.com, email DCSeniorLife@douglas.co.us or call 303-663-7681.

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