Want to Become Smarter? Be a Bookworm
How many hours did you spend reading books last week? This question has been asked in thousands of homes every other year since 1992 as part of the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study (HRS). In 2016, when Yale researchers dug into the HRS data collected from more than 3,600 men and women over the age of 50, a hopeful pattern emerged: people who read books for as little as 30 minutes a day over several years were living an average of two years longer than people who didn’t read anything at all. Newspapers and magazines granted a smaller but similar advantage.
Why would a sedentary activity add years to your life? For starters, reading—especially fiction—has been shown to increase empathy and emotional intelligence. Sharpening these social tools can lead to an increase in positive human interaction, which in turn can lower stress levels—both factors that lead to health and longevity.
Then there’s the fact that books expose you to fresh words and phrases. New findings from Spain’s University of Santiago de Compostela indicate that a large vocabulary may foster a more resilient neural structure by fuelling what scientists call cognitive reserve. You might think about this surplus as your brain’s ability to adapt to damage. Just as your blood cells will clot to cover a cut on your knee, cognitive reserve helps your brain cells find new mental pathways around areas that may have been injured by stroke, dementia and other forms of deterioration.
Need some suggestions on what to read next? Here are 14 Famous Books You Really Should Have Read by Now.