Volunteering Is Good for the Soul — And So Is Reading!

Many readers, myself included, prefer reading books in print format. We like the smell of books, the feel and weight of books, and the shhh sound as we run our fingers across the pages. We feel engaged in life as we read. Now there are studies that show that reading books can keep us alive longer.

The act of reading books may not only prolong memory and help keep you mentally sharp, but it also may lead to a longer life. A study published in the Journal of Social Science & Medicine in September 2016 found astonishing results. Reading books for 30 minutes per day or more has been shown to prolong life on average by 23 additional months. Reading books for up to 30 minutes per day also had some positive correlations to longevity as compared to nonbook readers and nonreaders. Solely reading newspaper articles and magazines did not show the same results as reading books. This is likely because reading books provides cognitive challenges and greater engagement with characters’ lives over a longer period than reading articles.

Many of us may think of reading as a solitary activity. In many ways, it is. Reading is also an activity that helps us develop empathy by getting to know countless characters intimately, through both fiction and nonfiction. Anyone who enjoys reading has laughed, cried, and even become angry at the characters in our favorite books. Many of us look for series that bring back the same characters because they become like friends. This is how books help us develop empathy and understanding for our fellow human beings with different life experiences. This keeps our brains active, engaged and challenged with critical thinking skills.

There is also a good deal of current research that correlates social interaction to longevity. Reading may be a part of that. The act of reading, both nonfiction and fiction, opens our minds and helps us empathize with our changing world and those around us. A shared reading experience, such as joining or starting a book club or simply discussing favorite books, allows us the common ground of a shared reading experience and the opportunity to talk, laugh and cry together.

If you are just getting started with reading more, ask your friends, family or a DCL librarian for some recommendations for finding the right book for you. Most book lovers have also started books that weren’t right for them, in which case they might set those aside after giving them a chance to try others.

The study that is the basis of this article was limited to books printed on paper and suggests that additional research is needed for audiobooks and e-books. However, if e-books are easier for you because they allow you to adjust the font and background color to your liking, among other features, download those books to your device! What is most important is the act of reading and mentally engaging with the story.

Written by Tiffany Curtin, Adult Literacy Specialist

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