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Reading Books Could Increase Lifespan

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It seems American musician Frank Zappa was wrong when he said "so many books, so little time."

According to a new study, reading books could extend lifespan by up to 2 years, and the more often you read, the better.

Study co-author Becca R. Levy, a professor of epidemiology at Yale University School of Public Health, and colleagues publish their findings in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

Despite growing popularity of the Kindle and other e-readers, sales of printed books are on the rise. Last year, there were 571 million units sold in the United States, compared with 559 million in 2014.

But reading books is not just a popular pastime; numerous studies have hailed its benefits for health. A recent study reported by Medical News Today, for example, found that reading fictional books may encourage empathy.

Now, Levy and colleagues claim the health benefits of reading books may reach even further, after finding it could help us live longer.

Book reading increased survival by up to 23 percent

To reach their findings, the team analyzed the data of 3,635 men and women who were part of the Health and Retirement Study - a nationally representative sample of American adults aged 50 and older.

At study baseline, all participants self-reported their reading habits. Subjects were followed-up for an average of 12 years, and their survival was monitored during this time.

Compared with adults who did not read books, those who read books for up to 3 ½ hours each week were 17 percent less likely to die over the 12-year follow-up, while those who read for more than 3 ½ hours weekly were 23 percent less likely to die.

Overall, adults who read books survived almost 2 years longer over the 12-year follow-up than non-book readers.

Book reading was found to be most common among females, individuals who were college-educated, and those with a higher income, the authors report.

Adults who reported reading magazines and newspapers also showed increased survival over non-readers, though the effect was much less than with book reading.

The study results remained after accounting for subjects' sex, age, wealth, education, self-reported health, comorbidities - the presence of two or more health conditions at the same time - and marital status.

The research did not pinpoint the mechanisms by which book reading may increase survival, but Levy and colleagues speculate that it may be down to its cognitive benefits; one study published in 2013 found that reading boosts brain cell connectivity.

While further research is warranted, the current findings are likely to be warmly welcomed by the avid book readers out there. As the researchers conclude:

"These findings suggest that the benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read them."

Written by Honor Whiteman