How A Book Can Help You Live Longer

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Lady Reading

  • For nerds, geeks and boffins, this is great news…
  • How to gain the evolutionary advantage and live longer
  • Plus – what being overweight does to your brain (this is an unpleasant surprise)

For a nerd like me, this is brilliant news…

Here’s the headline from an article in The Guardian on the 8th of August:

‘Book up for a longer life: readers die later, study finds’.

Apparently, a survey of over 3,500 people showed that there was a “survival advantage” for those people who read books for 30 minutes a day.

In fact, readers experienced a 20% reduction in risk of mortality over 12 years compared to non-book readers.

Now, this isn’t to brag. But for me, 30 minutes a day is nothing.

I’d estimate that for this People’s Doctor job alone I read books for at least an hour of my working day…. and then there’s the books I read for fun in the evening (I love science fiction novels but I DID say at the beginning of this email that I was a nerd).

How about you?

Do you read?

I realise it doesn’t seem like a pressing health issue – certainly I’ve never considered it one in the past – but this survey really seems to have hit on something. It was published in the Social Science and Medicine Journal and if you want to see the original then it’s here.

Oh, and just to point out something. The study makes it clear that it’s BOOKS that have this effect. Other materials like journals, blog posts, magazines and newspapers don’t count.

Not even The People’s Doctor counts – although it has other health benefits, right? ….RIGHT?

Anyway, the jury’s out on precisely why books extend life. But there are two factors that the researchers are pursuing.

1. Cognitive engagement (otherwise known as switching your brain on!) – reading books that take you deep into another world, getting you to know characters and experience new ideas, have the effect of activating your brain, increasing concentration levels and teaching you new words, challenging your ideas and helping you think critically. Previous studies have shown that reading helps develop new neural networks in your brain.

This is not only the “use it or lose it” theory about using your brain to keep it fit… it’s about having an evolutionary advantage. This is the sort of brain that nature favours.

2. Social skills – reading helps you empathise with others, increasing your emotional intelligence and your awareness of others in society. Again, this is something that gives you an evolutionary advantage. “People who read fiction may understand people better than others,” says Keith Oatley, a cognitive psychology professor at the University of Toronto.

If you’re not a regular reader, it might be worth picking up the habit! Most of the people in the study were reading fiction, and the scientists admit they’re not sure if the effect works on non-fiction and audio books.

So I’d recommend you find a genre you enjoy, whether it’s historical fiction, horror, thriller, murder mystery or travelogue… but try and choose challenging works, longer works, and those that really draw you into their world.

And… not to have a go at television, which I am partial to, but….

Research has shown that people over 64 spend over four hours every day (on average) watching television. If just one hour of that time could be spent on a good, intelligent book, this might have a widespread health benefit.

It’s crazy really…

We spend so much time and money researching drugs and therapies to cure society’s health issues… that sometimes we forget that there are simple, natural ways to keep the population young and active.

Keeping fit, yes… walking and swimming, yes… eating fruit and vegetables, yes.

But reading books? This is a new one.

And it goes to show that a lot of the aging process really goes on in our brains.

Talking of which, here’s something else that might fascinate you…

How being overweight ages your brain

This week I also read about some new research from the Cambridge Centre for Aging and Neuroscience, published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

It has found that the brains of people who are overweight appear a full decade older than slimmer people.

This effect doesn’t really come into play until we reach middle age. At which point weight seems to have a negative effect on brain matter.

The leader of the study, Dr Lisa Ronan told the BBC, “Obesity is so complex. We know an awful lot about what it does to the body. But what it does to the brain and how it interacts with obesity – we’re at the beginning of understanding that.”

So on one hand we have over-eating and poor diet as an aging influence on your brain… and then reading as something that not only keeps it young but opens up new neural pathways.

If you’re interested in controlling your weight, then I’ve posted a few articles on the website that might help you:

Or simply have a wander around the People’s Doctor website and see what’s new.

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