Yale researchers have found that reading a book for 30 minutes a day can add about 2 years to your life. In a study published in Social Science & Medicine last year, they surveyed 3,635 people over the age of 50 from a variety of socioeconomic and educational backgrounds about their reading habits. The results: They found that reading regularly reduced the risk of dying by 20% over the next 12 years. People who read magazines and newspapers also experienced a longevity boost, albeit a less significant one than book readers.
The reason for the increase in lifespan is unknown, but the researchers speculated that “books engage readers’ minds more than newspapers and magazines, leading to cognitive benefits that drive the effect of reading on longevity.” In addition, reading books may reduce stress and improve health behaviors.
Previous research supports the findings of this study, and one study suggests that reading may induce the relaxation response, a well-proven physiological phenomenon where the body and mind are calmed by certain activities like reading (and making art!) that distract from stress, leading to a lower risk of heart disease. A University of Sussex study found that reading reduced stress levels by 68%, more so than did listening to music (61%) or taking a walk (42%). Other studies indicate that reading in early to middle adulthood can stave off Alzheimer’s disease and engaging in cognitive activities such as reading in old age can slow cognitive decline.
Reading can also improve sleep by helping us to avoid electronic screens that can interfere with the production of the hormone melatonin, which prompts sleep. This may be true even if you use an e-reader, as long as it’s one that isn’t backlit (think the Kindle Paperwhite, which reads like a regular book).
How to Get Into the Reading Habit
About 300,000 books are published in the US annually, but most of us have little time to read them. On average, a Pew survey from 2014 shows that American adults read or listen to just 5 books a year—and many of us don’t read at all.
To get your reader on, consider these low-cost ways to get in the habit:
• join a library to borrow for free
• join a local book club to both read more and socialize more
• interact on websites such as Goodreads and Read Ups
• check out Oprah’s book club (now in its second incarnation)
• volunteer to read to the blind