Book Readers Live Longer

Does book reading really benefit health?

A recent study found an association between the reading of books and longevity. Compared to people who read no books, those who did experienced a 20% reduction in mortality.1

Is this effect real, that is, not mediated by other factors that conduce to both book reading and longer life? Genes, perhaps?

It’s well known, for example, that people with higher IQ tend to live longer, and these people could be expected to read more books.

To test whether reading books had a direct effect on longevity, the authors adjusted “for relevant covariates including age, sex, race, education, comorbidities, self-rated health, wealth, marital status, and depression”.

Adjusting for sex is important, since women live longer, and they read more books.

Education, wealth, and marital status are all proxies for intelligence. People with greater intelligence tend to get more formal education, have a higher income and greater wealth, and to be married.

The 20% reduction in mortality was seen even after adjusting for all of these factors.

Previous studies found that reading may have survival benefit, while others found no effect. The authors of the present paper conjectured that reading of books, as opposed to periodicals or other reading material (cereal boxes?) could have a protective effect. And they found that it did.

Cognitive effects of reading books

The authors “speculated that books engage readers’ minds more than newspapers and magazines, leading to cognitive benefits that drive the effect of reading on longevity.”

They say that the effects of reading books come from two sources.

  1. “Deep reading”, a type of cognitive engagement which draws connections to other parts of the book, to other books, and to the world.
  2. Books promote empathy and social perception, cognitive processes that they say are associated with greater longevity, cognitive impairment being associated with lower longevity.

The survival effect of reading books was nearly the same for

  • men, hazard ratio 0.81, vs women, HR 0.80
  • health status: >4 comorbidities (illnesses/symptoms), HR 0.68, <4 comorbidities, 0.84
  • education: high school or less, 0.81; at least some college, 0.79

To my mind, the different hazard ratios between healthy and non-healthy persons, 0.68 vs 0.84, is significant. Non-healthy people showed a greater reduction in death rates from reading than did healthy people, which seems to show a genuine beneficial effect of reading books on health.

The authors conclude that improved cognition, or more cognitive immersion, is behind the effect of book reading.

Books were significantly more protective than reading periodicals.

Of interest, actual learning — as it’s usually construed — probably played little part in the mortality difference, since, according to the authors, 87% of book readers read mainly fiction. In fact, given the proportion of people reading fiction, there seems to be little evidence that reading non-fiction helps — unfortunately for me, because that’s almost all that I read anymore.

The average person over the age of 65 in the U.S. watches a whopping 7 hours a day of television.

If they spent even an hour or two of that time reading books, that could improve their health and lifespans.

I am forced to conclude, given the data supplied by the authors, that the effect of reading books is real. However, I’m not qualified to have a crack at their statistical models, so if any of you readers doubt the conclusion, you’re welcome to have a go at it.

Conclusion

Read books, don’t read periodicals or social media or watch TV for the improvement of your health. Reading books may be especially important the older you are, since improved cognitive function and/or more cognitive engagement seem to be behind the benefits.

Come to think of it, writing books probably has a similar advantage.

You can start with a work of non-fiction that will genuinely stimulate your brain cells, Dumping Iron.

PS: Check out my Supplements Buying Guide for Men.

 

  1.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27471129
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15 comments
Book Readers Live Longer – Technology and Longevity Feed says August 17, 2016

[…] Original Article: Book Readers Live Longer […]

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TAL Feed says August 17, 2016

I’m in the same boat as you in regards to reading only non-fiction. I’m not too worried about that because of this:

“Deep reading”, a type of cognitive engagement which draws connections to other parts of the book, to other books, and to the world.”

Whenever I read a non-fiction book, I always find myself doing that. Pulling bits of information from other books, joining them together, checking them against each other etc.

Do you find yourself doing the same?

Reply
    P. D. Mangan says August 17, 2016

    Absolutely. In fact, my favorite kind of book is one that makes me see the world in a different light, and the most memorable books I’ve read are those that have profoundly changed my world view. Schopenhauer, for example. Or Cochran and Harpending’s 10,000 Year Explosion. These kinds of books provide immersion in a thought process that has the reader re-evaluating almost everything he thought he knew.

    Reply
      TAL Feed says August 18, 2016

      Excellent!

      Thanks for posting the book list below too. There’s quite a few there I need to look into.

      Reply
Herman Rutner says August 17, 2016

Sedentary readers or book worms may live longer, but only if overall more active than non readers.

Reply
Matt says August 17, 2016

P.D. ,

Besides the books you mentioned above, what other ones have changed your worldview the most? I am always fascinated by who my favorite authors recommendations are. I would love to hear yours.

Maybe a recommended reading list on the side of your site?

Reply
    P. D. Mangan says August 17, 2016

    Thanks, Matt, I take it as a compliment that you’re interested in my favorite books. I picked the two I mentioned because they popped into my head as influential on me. Also, since I’ve been reading serious books for a long time, it’s difficult to remember some of them. For instance, just thinking about this, when I was about 22 I read the entire Story of Civilization by Will and Ariel Durant, 10 large volumes. I hadn’t thought about that in a long time, and it certainly shaped my world view.

    Here are some authors/books that have influenced me:

    Bertrand Russell
    Isaac Asimov – his non-fiction science books
    Schopenhauer – I’ve read virtually every word he wrote
    A.J. Ayer – Language, Truth, and Logic
    H.L. Mencken
    Philip Larkin – my favorite poet
    Walter Kaufmann
    Alain de Botton
    P.G. Wodehouse
    Arturo Perez-Reverte
    Steven Pinker
    Charles Murray
    Jorge Luis Borges
    Lawrence Keeley, “War Before Civilization”
    Geoffrey Parker – historian, author of many excellent books
    Paul Fussell

    I could come up with some more, and those aren’t necessarily in order of importance (to me). Thanks for asking!

    Reply
      Matt says August 18, 2016

      P. D.,

      This is fantastic. I’m going to pick these up and start to work my way through them. Thanks again.

      Hope your own book sales are doing well. I’m a Health Coach and a Personal Trainer and I recommend your books to all of my clients. I’ve been using your website as a resource for awhile now. I’ve helped get so many men in their 40’s and up get turned onto weightlifting through your work. Again, many thanks.

      Reply
        P. D. Mangan says August 18, 2016

        Matt, I should be the one to thank you. I’m grateful that you’re recommending my books to your clients; that’s actually the kind of use I’m hoping for. Especially with Muscle Up, the idea behind it was to show the average guy (and gal) that weightlifting is very beneficial and is in fact the optimal exercise – basically, to get all the normies off the stair-steppers and on board the weightlifting wagon.

        Reply
          Matt says August 21, 2016

          Always glad to help spread the word. I think you did an amazing job with Muscle Up. Lots of my older clients enjoy it and they have said its given them a different outlook on lifting. The more people we can get off of the treadmill and into the weight room the better!

          Reply
FormerlyBigFatGuy says August 17, 2016

Well, if I didn’t read, then I would not have read your blog, and I would still be really fat and perhaps dead. So there is that.

Reply
Heh says August 18, 2016

“Books promote empathy and social perception,”

(Looking at large collection of military history books) Mmmm, yeah maybe but not always.

I know I’m going to be full of more empathy and warmth when that I read that new book on King Tigers of the Leibstandarte that I just ordered!

Reply
New “50 Shades Darker” Trailer (you know you want to watch) says September 16, 2016

[…] A recent study found an association between the reading of books and longevity. Compared to people who read no books, those who did experienced a 20% reduction in mortality.1 […]

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