Regular reading habits can lengthen your lifespan, especially for those already over the age of 65.
Feel that crisp chill biting the air? That’s your seasonal cue to snuggle up in your favorite chair with your coziest blanket and crack open a good book, to slow down and reset. Voracious reading is one of fall’s most time-honored traditions because, honestly, sometimes it’s just too nippy or rainy to do much else. (And there’s only so much Netflix you can take before your brain turns to mush.)
If you struggle to find those extra minutes in your busy life to pick up your paperback or Kindle (because, yes, fall is ripe with to-do lists and mom-errands), we hear you. But now you have one more reason to make room for storytime and schedule it into your day: A new study suggests that reading a chapter a day could actually prolong your life, especially as you grow older.
So finding an hour to read more of that new Gillian Flynn page-turner you want to read? You can tell people it’s a matter of life or death.
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Okay, maybe that’s being a tad over-dramatic—but it is important for your mental health to rest and reset your brain, which is something that reading a book can help you do. But it’s not just you who needs this reading time built into the day: it’s especially good for your aging loved ones, like your mother or grandmother, too.
The study specifically found that book reading is most impactful for seniors’ longevity. Emphasis on good ol’ books, not magazines or newspapers (as wonderful and special as they are, too.) Researchers at Yale University’s School of Public Health found that study participants who reported reading a book for just half an hour a day lived, on average, about two years longer than their less literary counterparts. Even when the researchers adjusted for factors that normally lead to a longer life, like wealth and education, they saw that reading still gave these seniors a survival boost.
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Researchers haven’t pinpointed what specifically about reading every day causes the correlation with a longer life, but one theory attributes it to an increase in “cognitive engagement.” When you read a book, you tap into your brain more deeply than when you read a magazine or newspaper. Books just take more concentration and emotional investment. (That’s what makes those thriller-mysteries so good!) Your brain is working to make connections throughout the story, searching for ways to tie the story to the real life you experience, and asking rapid-fire questions about what’s going on and why it matters.
Plus, as the researchers of this study point out, reading books doesn’t only improve your vocabulary and critical thinking skills; it helps you with “softer” skills, like developing your empathy and social perception. Those softer skills—even if just dusted off and polished late in life—could be what helps you live longer.
Since we all want our loved ones with us here on Earth for as long as possible, reading a chapter a day is a great habit to encourage in our mothers and fathers and grandparents—and our kids and ourselves, too. No matter what age you are, make a simple promise to yourself, like buying your mom a new book every month, or cutting back on the TV watching, or really scheduling time for it as a planned family activity with your kids or elderly relatives.
What have you got to lose? Even if it doesn’t increase your lifespan in the long-run, at least you’ll all be sharp as tacks.
5 ways to fit in a chapter a day:
- At the breakfast table, because a good cup of coffee is just asking for a good read to go along with it. Or encourage your older family members to swap their usual newspapers for a book. And for those special occasions or weekends when you have a massive pancake breakfast? Definitely read while you’re digesting!
- In the car with an audio book or with the passenger reading to the driver—as long as traffic isn’t too hairy! If you check out both the audio book and the print book from the library, you’ll never get behind on the story.
- On your errands. Speaking of the library, make it part of your to-to list! Chances are it’s not that far from the grocery store, bank, post office, or wherever else you have to go during the week. Libraries are good for the soul, and librarians are always happy to help you or your kids find your next great chapter-a-day book.
- After dinner or on weekend afternoons, think of reading as one big family activity. If Grandma and Grandpa don’t live with you, wrangle them on Skype and get them to read to the kids, or vice-a-versa.
- Before bed. It’s probably the closest thing you have to “me time.” But instead of those last minute chores (some of them can wait, can’t they?) or an episode of Stranger Things, think about swapping that hour for your book instead. Sure, you might fall asleep about 20-minutes in, but that’s not the worst outcome either
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