by Martin Cothran
How many times have you been asked why it is important to teach literature? How about this for an answer: It helps you live longer.
According to the journal Social Science and Medicine, a study of 3,635 adults 50 years of age and older over a period 12 years found that those reading at least 30 minutes a day were 23 percent less likely to die over the period of the study. “Thus, reading books provided a 23-month survival advantage,” said the authors. Book readers, said the study’s abstract, “experienced a 20% reduction in risk of mortality over the 12 years of follow up compared to non-book readers.”
“These findings suggest that the benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read them,” said the authors.
The study also found that this advantage in longevity was more than that for people who only read newspapers and periodicals. “We found,” said researcher Avni Bavishi, “that reading books provided a greater benefit than reading newspapers or magazines. We uncovered that this effect is likely because books engage the reader’s mind more – providing more cognitive benefit, and therefore increasing the lifespan,” Bavishi said.
The researchers attributed the advantage in longevity to the cognitive stimulus provided by books:
Cognitive engagement may explain why vocabulary, reasoning, concentration, and critical thinking skills are improved by exposure to books… [They] can promote empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, which are cognitive processes that can lead to greater survival.
One interesting aspect of the study had to do with what books the subjects of the study were reading. According to Allison Flood at the Guardian, writing about the survey:
Although respondents to the survey did not specify the genre of the books they were reading, the paper says it is likely that most of the people they surveyed were reading fiction, pointing to a survey from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2009 that found that 87% of book readers choose fiction.
As with all studies of this kind, you have to ask what exactly the study is measuring. For example, do people who read books, as a group, do other things that contribute to longevity? According to the researchers in this study, they did adjust for “age, sex, race, education, comorbidities, self-rated health, wealth, marital status, and depression,” giving their results more credibility.