In a study published in Social Science & Medicine, American researchers asked 3,635 people over 50 how many hours a week they spent reading books over a one-week period. After a 12-year follow-up and controlling for factors like sex, education, race, wealth, self-rated health, employment, depression and marital status, they found that book readers lived about 23 months longer than those who didn’t read.
While the correlation is powerful, it’s simplistic to suggest improved cognition from reading results can lead to better survival. “It’s a first step, but there are probably other mechanisms that account for the relationship between book reading and increased longevity,” says Richard Kruk, a psychology professor at the University of Manitoba.“It could be other aspects of life that have clear benefits to improving lifespan.” For example, people who choose to read books may also make better lifestyle choices or have better eating habits.
There’s also no telling if people stopped or continued reading at the same rate after the survey. “The researchers measured reading on a single question, ‘how many hours did you read over the last week?” says Kruk. “That’s a very small, targeted question in a small slice of a person’s life, I don’t know if this translates into long-term reading behaviour or not.”
These findings are novel, but there are likely more factors at play. Reading books will increase knowledge, but to link the activity directly to an increased lifespan is a stretch.
The best Canadian fiction of all time as chosen by Canadian novelists
What it feels like to be covered in painful hives for months
New research shows male birth control works, but men can’t handle it