What if there was one simple thing you could do every day that would give you better brain function and a longer life? What if that thing cost little or nothing, and you could do it anywhere, including in bed, on an airplane, or in the bathtub? Well there is such a thing: read a book.

That's the surprising result of a recently completed study by researchers at Yale University. They asked 3,635 people over 50 about their reading habits and divided them into three groups: Those who didn't read much, those who read less than three and a half hours a week, and those who read more than three and a half hours a week. Then they followed the subjects over 12 years.

The researchers found, after adjusting for other longevity factors, that both groups of readers lived longer than the non-readers, and the heavier-reading group gained 23 months of extra life--an improvement of 20 percent. And among heavy readers, those who read books got an extra four months of longevity--20 percent more than those who read articles such as this one (sorry!).

Why do readers live longer than non-readers? Because reading improves cognition, the researchers found. And book readers live the longest because reading a book is generally a greater cognitive workout than reading articles. It requires remembering complex information or story lines from one reading session to the next, entering into the world of the book and understanding it within its own context, and it usually (though not always) means forming a deeper emotional connection with the material than if you were reading something shorter. As Big Think's Laurie Vazquez comments, "That's a 20 percent reduction in mortality created by a sedentary activity. That's a big deal."

Convinced that you should have a regular book-reading habit, but not sure how to get started? Try any of these approaches:

1. Get friendly with your e-reader, reading app, or local library.

There's a lot of debate among bookworms as to whether e-books or paper books are the better choice. I personally opt for e-books whenever I can but I know many serious readers who would never give up the pleasure of holding a book feeling and smelling the paper, and turning the pages. 

Whichever you prefer, there's a smorgasbord of inexpensive reading choices out there. Browse your local library or used book store. If you like e-books, do what I do: Whenever you hear about an author or book you might like, download a sample for free. Either way, you'll have so many choices of reading material, you'll find something to entertain or inspire you no matter what mood you're in.

2. Join (or start) a book group.

A book group is a great way to get into the reading habit because knowing the next group meeting is coming forces you to sit down and read so you'll know what everyone is talking about. Another advantage is that you will likely also discover books you wouldn't have selected yourself. Depending on the book, this can also be a disadvantage, so it's smart to find a book group with interests and tastes that mesh with yours. If the first group you join doesn't do that, keep looking. Or, call a few friends, open a bottle of wine, and start your own.

3. Join (or start) an online book group.

If getting to book group meetings is too challenging, you can always join an online book group such as  Oprah's Book Club or any of the many groups hosted by GoodReads

4. Pick books that you know you will enjoy.

Don't drive yourself crazy trying to read some enormous tome because you think it will be good for you. Pick books that you know you'll enjoy reading, especially while you're building up your reading habit. And don't be afraid to set a book down and pick up a different one if it's not holding your attention. 

If you do have books that you want to read because you want to lean what's in them but don't think you'll enjoy reading, use my trick: Promise yourself that as soon as you finish the difficult book, you'll reward yourself with something really fun to read.

5. Figure out where reading fits in your schedule.

In my case, it's before I fall asleep and when I first get up, as well as sometimes during meals. For you it might be while you're on an exercise machine or during your daily commute. Whatever it is, figure out when reading fits best in your routine and make sure you have a book handy.

6. Never go anywhere without a book.

In today's world where you can easily install several reading apps onto your smartphone, there's no reason to ever be caught without something to read. Once you get in the habit of having a book with you, you'll be amazed how often it will come in handy while standing on line, waiting for an appointment, eating alone in a restaurant and so on. It may mean a little less time on Facebook or playing Candy Crush. But if it gains you a couple of extra years, that's a tradeoff worth making.

Published on: Aug 11, 2016
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