Mental Well-Being

Want to Live Longer? Read Books.

February 27, 2020

You probably know a lot of great benefits to books and reading. You heard them all the time during school: they make you better informed, increase your vocabulary, help you understand how to think, and, of course, raise your SAT scores.

We hope you never need to take the SATs again. Unless that’s something you’re into. But we do hope you’re still reading—both for sheer enjoyment and for your health. Reading has many health benefits. And not just those that come from reading health resources—like this blog.

It helps form new connections in the brain.

A study at Emory University showed heightened connectivity in the part of readers’ brains responsible for language receptivity. It was a change that persisted for days after the subjects finished reading the novel (for the purposes of the study, Pompeii by Robert Harris). “We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically,” said neuroscientist Gregory Berns, Director of Emory’s Center for Neuropolicy.

It helps reduce stress.

Silent reading for just six minutes reduced stress levels by 68 percent, according to a study at the University of Sussex. Listening to music, having a cup of tea, and taking a walk were also effective, but reading worked the best. “This is more than merely a distraction, but an active engaging of the imagination, as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness,” said Dr. David Lewis, who conducted the research.

It helps to lengthen attention span and increase brain capacity.

In some ways, it’s like cardio for your brain. According to Baroness Susan Greenfield, a neuroscientist whose research has focused on the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, “stories have a beginning, a middle and an end – a structure that encourages our brains to think in sequence, to link cause, effect and significance. It is essential to learn this skill as a small child, while the brain has more plasticity, which is why it’s so important for parents to read to their children.”

It helps you live longer.

Yale-led study found a 20 percent reduction in mortality over 12 years in book readers versus non-readers. Put another way? Book readers survived almost two years longer than non-readers. “Cognitive engagement may explain why vocabulary, reasoning, concentration, and critical thinking skills are improved by exposure to books,” wrote the authors of the study. They also observed that books “can promote empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, which are cognitive processes that can lead to greater survival”.

Really, about the only downside to reading is feeling sad when you finish a book. But don’t worry: Your local library can advise you on what books to read next.