Books, reading, science

Read More, Live More

My mother used to scold me about reading too much. ‘Go outside!’ she’d say. ‘Enjoy the sunshine!’ when she’d find me curled up with my nose in a book. Later, she’d tell me I was reading too many books. She was worried I was neglecting my schoolwork, but I could point out that my grades were keeping me on the honor roll every semester in high school, even while I was hauling home armloads of books from the library.

Turns out, I can now argue that my time spent reading might be adding years (ok, at least months) to my life. A study published in the Social Science & Medicine Journal concluded that reading books adds between 23 and four months to one’s life. Reading periodicals (i.e. magazines) adds a few months, but it’s books with their deep reading and immersive experience that really make a difference. But why? The study concludes that books improve reader’s emotional intelligence, empathy, and connections to society. When we dive into a book, we are conducting “”deep reading,” which is a slow, immersive process; this cognitive engagement occurs as the reader draws connections to other parts of the material, finds applications to the outside world, and asks questions about the content presented.” This unfurling of our mental processes, the study hypothesizes, leads to readers having a ‘survival advantage.’ The Reader Dragon crop-1

And it’s not just reading non-fiction. I’ve had conversations with people who sniff at reading fiction, but statistics show that 87% of readers are readers of fiction. Fiction offers ways for readers to safely explore the world around them, the connections in society, the interactions humans can have, and in reading, develop their ability to think flexibly and to feel more connected to other humans. Reading offers a way to explore the world, history, and worlds only ever dreamt of. As the study authors said, it’s a way to ask, and answer, questions. Answer in more than one way, too. For all that we can have nearly limitless questions about the world that surrounds us, the answers are exponentially vaster. When was the world inhabited by 15 foot-tall fungus and little else? What is the fastest acceleration in nature? What is it about the warmth and wit of the comedy of manners written by Georgette Heyer that so engages and amuses us even now, making them timeless classics of romance? (I’ve been binging on Heyer as many of her titles are now available in Kindle Unlimited).

We can learn from books, but we also derive great comfort and escape from the stresses of daily life through reading. Fiction in particular has the capacity to transport us outside this world, and the cares that wear time off our lifespan. This, perhaps, accounts for some of the time readers gain at the end of the span that has not been eroded by as much stress as non-readers who cannot escape so readily.

I did get outside and still love spending time out-of-doors. But there’s time enough to do both. I still read, and I need to walk or hike more, but spring is coming (eventually!) and my reading time will slip a little while I prioritize that sunshine I do need. I won’t stop reading entirely, though. Even if it doesn’t make me live longer, it makes the life I’m living now seem easier and more pleasant. I’ll take that.

21 thoughts on “Read More, Live More

  1. This entry reminds me of the Chinese? proverb that claims time spent fishing is not counted against a person’s lifespan. I’d argue that time spent reading the good stuff similarly does not count.

        1. Grandpa ruined fishing for me. While so many go on about it as a means to get away and do ‘nothing’.. he had the audacity to keep catching fish, so I figured that was what it was about.

          1. Salt-water fishing wore me out. Ever hand-cranked a 50 lb. amberjack from about 300 ft.? After about 45 minutes of a stout grouper rod bent into a U shape, I was done for the day. Guide offered to hook me up to another, but I told him no thanks.

  2. Literally minutes ago:
    “Go outside!”
    “I don’t want to play outside.”
    “I don’t care if you’re reading, but you need to be outside.”

    Sunlight, fresh air, and she’ll run off to play with her siblings in a few minutes, then come back to reading, and so on.

      1. *laughs* We’ve had to scold several times for that– their teacher is a grumpy guss, she doesn’t need any competition.

        (explaining the joke– homeschooled)

      1. Being inside, awake, and Truly Absorbed (even with walls nothing more than two pieces of thin paneling) has the same effect. Hypnosis? Oh, like when the story is good?

      2. Ah…yes. I remember THAT incident, LOL! It wasn’t funny at the time — we thought we’d lost her for good! We were renting a small farm (24 acres, with a small orchard where the long grass was). Cedar was about ten, I think, and when we realized she was missing, I got up out of my sick bed (I’d been down with the flu) and staggered outside and leaned on my horse so I could walk around the big cow-pugged pasture looking for her. We hunted for her for a couple of hours before she finally woke up and stood up in the middle of the orchard where she’d been reading. Later we found out that our area had had a lot of children go missing and they thought there was a Satanic group kidnapping them (don’t know if that was true, but that was the rumor going around). I was SO glad we hadn’t heard about that before she went missing — we would have been having heart attacks.

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