There are some things we can do that are linked to living longer, such as not smoking and exercising regularly, but could reading books also have such an effect? A study published in the journal Social Science and Medicine concludes that those who regularly read books add several years to their lives. They found this effect in both men and women, found that reading books are "protective regardless of gender, wealth, education", but the effect holds only for books and not magazines and newspapers. Since surveys show that 87% of book readers read fiction, then it is likely that most of the book readers were reading fiction.
In the long-term (12 years) study of 3,635 people, the researchers found that those that read books for more than 3.5 hours per week lived on average two years longer than non-readers, and that there was a dose-response effect (the more one reads, the better). This appeared to be linked to cognitive enhancement rather than any other associated factor, such as age, sex, education, race, health, wealth, etc. The research team from the Yale University School of Public Health divided their subjects into three groups: those who didn’t read at all, those who read for 3.5 hours per week or less, and those who read for more than 3.5 hours per week. They found that the occasional readers were 17 percent less likely to die during the follow-up period than those who did not. This beneficial effect of reading was only linked to books, and not other forms of reading material such as magazines or newspapers. From the journal Social Science and Medicine:
This study examined whether those who read books have a survival advantage over those who do not read books and over those who read other types of materials, and if so, whether cognition mediates this book reading effect. The cohort consisted of 3635 participants in the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study who provided information about their reading patterns at baseline.....based on survival information up to 12 years after baseline. A dose-response survival advantage was found for book reading by tertile.....Book reading contributed to a survival advantage that was significantly greater than that observed for reading newspapers or magazines. Compared to non-book readers, book readers had a 23-month survival advantage at the point of 80% survival in the unadjusted model. A survival advantage persisted after adjustment for all covariates (HR = .80, p < .01), indicating book readers experienced a 20% reduction in risk of mortality over the 12 years of follow up compared to non-book readers. Cognition mediated the book reading-survival advantage. These findings suggest that the benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read them.
While most sedentary behaviors are well-established risk factors for mortality in older individuals (Wullems et al., 2016; de Rezenade et al., 2014, Katzmaryk & Lee, 2012; Muennig, Rosen, & Johnson, 2013), previous studies of a behavior which is often sedentary, reading, have had mixed outcomes....We speculated that books engage readers’ minds more than newspapers and magazines, leading to cognitive benefits that drive the effect of reading on longevity.
Reading books tends to involve two cognitive processes that could create a survival advantage. First, it promotes "deep reading,” which is a slow, immersive process; this cognitive engagement 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 (Wolf, Barzillai, & Dunne, 2009). Cognitive engagement may explain why vocabulary, reasoning, concentration, and critical thinking skills are improved by exposure to books (Stanovich, West, & Harrison, 1995; Stanovich & Cunningham, 1998; Wolf, Barzillai, & Dunne, 2009). Second, books can promote empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, which are cognitive processes that can lead to greater survival (Bassuk, Wypij, & Berkmann, 2000; Djikic, Oatley, & Moldoveanu 2013; Kidd & Castano 2013; Shipley, Der, Taylor, & Deary 2008; Olsen, Olsen, Gunner-Svensson, & Waldstrom, 1991).
The final sample consisted of 3635 individuals that were followed over 34,496 person years, with 27.4% of the sample dying during an average 9.49 years of follow-up. Consistent with the older population, the sample was predominantly (62%) female.....The average time spent reading per week was 3.92 hours for books and 6.10 hours for periodicals. The two types of reading were not strongly correlated, and 38% of the sample (n=1390) read only books or only periodicals; this allowed them to be treated as separate constructs.....Cognitive engagement was assessed with total cognitive score (available in the supplemental Imputation of Cognitive Function Measures) which is a summary variable based on 8 items, including immediate recall, delayed recall, serial 7s, backwards count from 20, object naming, President naming, Vice President naming, and date naming.
A 20% reduction in mortality was observed for those who read books, compared to those who did not read books. Further, our analyses demonstrated that any level of book reading gave a significantly stronger survival advantage than reading periodicals.....The mediation analyses showed for the first time that the survival advantage was due to the effect that book reading had on cognition....This finding suggests that reading books provide a survival advantage due to the immersive nature that helps maintain cognitive status.