7 ways reading boosts health and longevity
Older adults who read books regularly for pleasure live an average of two years longer than those who don’t read books at all, and they’re 20% less likely to die over a 12-year period,* according to a Yale University study. The researchers found that participants in the Health and Retirement study benefited more from reading books than newspaper or magazines, likely because books engage the mind more.

The researchers suggested vocabulary, reasoning, concentration and critical thinking skills are improved by reading books, and literature promotes cognitive processes like social perception and emotional intelligence* that can help lengthen life.

Health advantages for readers

A growing body of research shows that reading also improves health and quality of life in multiple ways:

1. Boost brain connections. Brain scans revealed that people who read an engaging novel increased their brain connections and had neurological changes that persist like a muscle memory,* according to a study in Brain Connectivity. 

2. Relax and relieve stress. Reading lowers stress levels by 68%,* and works even better and faster than other relaxation methods such as listening to music, going for a walk or having a cup of tea, according to a University of Sussex study. It took just six minutes of reading to slow down their heart rate and ease muscle tension.

3. Improve empathy. Reading narrative fiction improves a person’s ability to empathize by understanding what others are thinking and feeling,* reports a York University study. Empathy, in turn, helps lower stress,* according to University of British Columbia.

4. Ease chronic pain. Reading short stories, novels or poetry in a small group is an effective therapy to help people living with chronic pain ease their emotional pain,* reported the BMJ Journal for Medical Humanities.

5. Lift your mood. People living with depression improved their social, mental, emotional and psychological outlook and well-being* after participating in reading groups for 12 months, University of Liverpool reported.

6. Protect memory and thinking skills. Reading books and magazines, and writing, can help to keep memory and thinking skills intact longer and slow the rate of cognitive decline in older adults,* according to a Neurology study. 

7. Enhance quality of life and care. Reading aloud to people living with dementia improves their mood, concentration, and recollection, and increases social interaction,* reports University of Liverpool. Quality of life and care were also enhanced* for the study participants through regular readings.

Chartwell Retirement Residences offers numerous leisure experiences and outings at our senior living communities, including book clubs, speaker series and lifelong learning opportunities. Learn more about our life enrichment programming on our website.

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

1. Yale University. “A chapter a day: Association of book reading with longevity.” (2016), online: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0277953616303689/
 2. Meghan Cox Gurdon. “Magic Words.” (2018), online: https://www .theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-the-power-of-reading-aloud/
3. Emory University. “Brain function ‘boosted for days after reading a novel’.” (2013), online: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/brain-function-boosted-for-days-after-reading-a-novel-9028302.html
4. University of Sussex. “Reading ‘can help reduce stress’.” (2009), online: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html
5. York University. “Can reading fiction improve empathy?” (2018), online: https://psychcentral.com/news/2014/08/12/can-reading-fiction-improve-empathy/73521.html
6. University of British Columbia. “Empathy training and stress: their role in medical students’ responses to emotional patients.” (1990), online: https://open.library.ubc.ca/cIRcle/collections/ubctheses/831/items/1.0076869
7. University of Liverpool. “Shared reading can help with chronic pain.” (2017), online: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170301105600.htm
8. University of Liverpool. “An investigation into the therapeutic benefits of reading in relation to depression and well-being.” (2017), online: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/268054133_An_investigation_into_the_therapeutic_benefits_of_reading_in_relation_to_depression_and_well-being
9. Rush University Medical Center. “Keep reading to keep Alzheimer’s at bay.” (2013), online: https://www.alzinfo.org/articles/reading-alzheimers-bay/
10. University of Liverpool. “The WHY of reading aloud to the elderly.” (2015), online: http://www.bethstilborn.com/the-why-of-reading-aloud-to-the-elderly/
11. University of Liverpool. “A literature-based intervention for older people living with dementia.” (2017), online: https://www.thereader.org.uk/literature-based-intervention-older-people-living-dementia/