Do you enjoy sitting down with a good book? This is one hobby you should feel free to indulge in without guilt, as reading is linked to a variety of benefits, both mental and physical.
In fact, new research published in the journal Social Science & Medicine revealed book readers live an average of two years longer than non-readers. Specifically, compared to people who read no books, those who read for up to 3.5 hours a week had a 17 percent lower risk of dying over the next 12 years.
Those who read for more than 3.5 hours a week fared even better; they had a 23 percent lower risk of dying prematurely. Broken down, this means that reading for just 30 minutes a day may offer a major health advantage.
This was true even after the researchers controlled for other factors that might influence lifespan, such as age, race, gender, education level, income, health, employment and more.
Interestingly, reading newspapers and periodicals also offered longevity benefits, although not to the same extent as books.
Reading Reduces Stress, Enhances Empathy and More
Research conducted by cognitive neuropsychologist David Lewis and colleagues from the University of Sussex in England revealed that reading is a powerful form of stress relief. Volunteers had their stress levels and heart rates increased and then tried a variety of stress-reduction methods to relax.
Reading worked best, outshining other stress-reduction techniques like listening to music, taking a walk or having a cup of tea. Stress levels declined by 68 percent after participants read for just six minutes, leading Lewis to say, "Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation."1
When you read, your mind is distracted from everyday worries and anxiety, while your muscles tend to relax. In addition, research shows reading leads to improvements in brain function, including significant increases in connectivity that persist for several days after the reading takes place.2
Dr. Gregory S. Berns, director of Emory University's Center for Neuropolicy, told the Huffington Post:3
"At a minimum, we can say that reading stories — especially those with strong narrative arcs — reconfigures brain networks for at least a few days. It shows how stories can stay with us. This may have profound implications for children and the role of reading in shaping their brains."
In addition, reading literary fiction was shown to enhance a skill known as theory of mind, which is the ability to understand others' mental states4 and show increased empathy.
Other research that used historical data on about 50,000 twins found that high levels of schooling (at least 13 years) are associated with three years longer life expectancy than low levels of schooling (less than 10 years).5 In this case, it's not reading, exactly, that's linked with this benefit. According to researchers:6
"The real societal value of schooling may … extend beyond pure labor market and economic growth returns. From a policy perspective, schooling may therefore be a vehicle for improving longevity and health, as well as equality along these dimensions."