Most of us want to live long, healthy lives, full of purpose and vitality. While there is no fountain of youth, there are certain practices everyone knows help extend your time on earth: wearing your seatbelt, eating fruits and vegetables, and exercising regularly, to name a few.
Now there's an arguably more interesting way to increase your lifespan. According to new research out of the Yale University School of Public Health, people who do this on a regular basis set themselves up to live longer than those who don't: read.
The study, published in Social Science and Medicine, involved surveying 3,635 people that researchers split into three groups: those who didn't read at all, those who read 3.5 hours per week or less, and those who read over 3.5 hours per week.
After adjusting for variables including age, sex, race, education, wealth, marital status, and depression, researchers named reading as a significant factor in increased longevity.
It wasn't an insignificant amount of extra lifetime, either. Participants who read over 3.5 hours per week were 23 percent less likely to die than their non-bibliophile brethren. In fact, those wildest about the written word lived up to two full years longer.
Perhaps most significant of all, benefits only appeared to expand the more a person read. In other words, barring other factors, research suggests that the more you read, the longer you could live.
This dovetails nicely with research published in Neurology, which shows that similar to the effect of jogging on your cardiovascular system, reading gives your brain a good cranial workout. While aging comes with a natural decline in memory and overall brain functioning, reading can help slow that process, keeping you mentally clear and sharp. A similar study found that those who read regularly were 2.5x less likely to have Alzheimer's.
If you're wondering about what to read, the research is clear on that, too. While magazine articles and newspapers do help, the study shows that by far the best thing to read is an actual book. English teachers everywhere will rejoice, and Bill Gates will feel vindicated (he famously reads a book a week).
So there you have it: Real, plot-rich, story-laden, cliff-hanging, insight-inducing, stay-up-late-to-finish, tremendous, stupendous books are not just fun to read and occasionally unforgettable -- they're part of a well-balanced intellectual diet that keeps you healthier, longer.
Or, as the study's abstract ends by saying, "the benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read them."
"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." - Frederick Douglas