If you're over 50, reading books has extraordinary benefits when it comes to longevity.
When I first read an article at Inc., I thought, score! I’m going to live forever. Then I re-read it and got kinda bummed out for a minute, because the Yale researchers who found that reading extends human lifespans were only studying the reading habits and lifespan of people over 50. The correlation they found between more reading and a longer life is still pretty exciting though, even if it’s not applicable to me … yet …
People who read books live longer
That’s according to Yale researchers who studied 3,635 people older than 50 and found that those who read books for 30 minutes daily lived an average of 23 months longer than nonreaders or magazine readers. Apparently, the practice of reading books creates cognitive engagement that improves lots of things, including vocabulary, thinking skills, and concentration. It also can affect empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, the sum of which helps people stay on the planet longer.
None of these things are surprising to me, an avid lifelong reader … except the fact that all this cognitive and emotional engagement actually lengthens our lifespan. But it makes sense — after all, reading is a thing you do every day, and that kind of intellectual and emotional stimulation is bound to have a positive cumulative effect.
Then I started actually thinking about my reading habits, and I realized that recently they’ve been … not so great. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read a lot — like, an infinite amount — about exercise science and human anatomy and physiology while studying for my CPT. I’ve read interesting articles people have sent me, and I’ve dutifully read my friends’ Facebook status updates. But as far as voluntary, extra reading … not so much.
This is surprising and sad for me, because reading is something I love. It’s always been an effortless and enjoyable part of my day, whether I’m reading a new sci-fi novel or a pop psychology best-seller. But lately I’ve let that habit fall by the wayside, and I now that I’m aware of it I can tell that I’ve been feeling a subtle but pervasive sense of loss. I miss reading fiction. I don’t really miss the pop psych though — and I definitely don’t miss the exercise science (though this is almost certainly a burnout effect).
I’m sure there are many reasons for that, but one might be that according to Inc., reading fiction helps people stay open minded by decreasing our need for “cognitive closure.” Basically, we learn to accept not having all the answers and being comfortable in a state of seeking.
In my experience, being comfortable with not having all the answers is an essential skill for parents. It’s also an essential skill for everyone who wants to live a free, fulfilling life. Needing to have all the answers to everything can trap us in a rigidity that might prevent us from meeting new people, experiencing new ideas, and trying new things. And who wants to live a life like that?
Not me! I’m going to do everything I can to keep myself open minded, starting by picking up a new fiction book today. If reading is going to give me more years in which to live, I’m going to make sure I’m able to enjoy those years as fully as possible!
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