Words of wisdom: Reading your way to health and longevity

When our children were young, we encouraged them to read, and we most likely read to them. The benefits are well documented: children who read more have larger vocabularies, improved critical thinking skills and better memories.

It turns out that seniors who read for even a few hours a week enjoy many similar benefits—including a couple of extra years in which to enjoy the latest bestseller!

A2016 Yale University study* looked at a group of 3,635 seniors, dividing them into three categories: non-book-readers; readers who read 3.5 hours per week or less; and book readers who read more than 3.5 hours per week. Regardless of other factors influencing longevity, the scientists found that the book readers who read more than 3.5 hours per week lived almost two years longer than the other two groups. Interestingly, participants had to read books to achieve this gain—reading newspapers or magazines didn’t have the same benefit.

Of course, most of us read because we find it enjoyable; there’s nothing like entering the world of a really good book and only coming up for air when meal time or bed time calls. There are even more wonderful effects, however:

1)   Reading improves memory—Research* shows that being mentally engaged in your later years reduces the rate of memory decline by almost one-third. Reading exercises the memory muscle, critical to our short-term recall, as well as strengthening the brain’s neural network.

2)   Reading helps to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia—Dr. Zaven Khachaturian, a senior science advisor to the American Alzheimer’s Association, determined that those in their 70s who had enjoyed mentally-stimulating hobbies (including reading) from their 20s to their 60s were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s. He attributes this to the fact that these activities build a storehouse of neuronal connections that impede the development of the neuron-destroying Alzheimer’s process.

3)   Reading reduces stress—According to a British study*, when it comes to feeling less stressed, reading beats listening to music, having a cup of coffee, or going for a walk. In fact, within six minutes, the heart rate slows and muscles relax.

But what if you have difficulty reading due to failing eyesight, arthritis or other medical conditions? Thanks to technology, there are several options to keep you reading. E-readers, such as Kindle and Kobo brands, have touch-screens, adjustable back lighting and varying text sizes, all options helpful for those with vision or dexterity challenges. Audiobooks are also available in many different formats, from CDs to phone apps.

Many seniors’ residences have book clubs, so you can enjoy discussing the latest bestseller with other readers; some also have volunteer readers who share their love of reading with interested residents.

Chartwell Retirement Residences offer a wide range of activities to help keep you mentally, physically, socially and spiritually active. Click here to learn more about our recreational programming.

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:

  1. ScienceDirect. "A chapter a day: Association of book reading with longevity" (2016), Online: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953616303689
  2. Neurology. "Life-span cognitive activity, neuropathologic burden, and cognitive aging" (2013), Online: http://www.neurology.org/content/81/4/314
  3. The Telegraph. "Reading 'can help reduce stress'" (2009), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html>