Keep Reading

Keep your brain active and maintain neural connections

Improve your quality of life with mentally challenging reading

The healthy lifestyle choice, Keep Learning, helps us in three critical ways. Reading predicts increased longevity, improves health literacy, and expands our personal capital.

Reading is one of the most accessible and potentially valuable ways to work your brain. Would reading predict longer life? Researchers at Yale University used data from 3,645 participants in the Health and Retirement Study. It included a nationally representative sample of US adults who were at least 50 years old in 1992. Participants were classified into three groups based on the number of hours of book (0, 0.01 – 3.49, > 3.49) or periodical reading (0-2, 2.01 – 6.99, > 6.99) per week. Compared to those in the lowest group of book reading, participants in the highest group had a 23 percent lower risk of dying during an average follow-up of 9.4 years. The survival advantage for book readers exceeded that for periodical readers. When researchers collapsed book reading into two groups (zero book reading or at least some book reading), book readers enjoyed a 23-month survival advantage.

Researchers repeatedly find that greater education correlates with greater longevity. Reading fluency may explain part of this link. Good readers are more likely that poor readers to have more knowledge of appropriate self-care strategies. Plus, they can better understand written instructions from health care providers. A group of researchers recruited new Medicare recipients to determine if those with low health literacy (presumably highly related to overall reading fluency) died sooner than those with marginal or high health literacy. During six years of follow-up and adjusting for potential confounding factors, participants with inadequate health literacy had a 52 percent higher risk of dying than those with adequate health literacy. Most of the premature deaths arose from cardiovascular causes. Thus, lots of reading might improve your health literacy and lead to longer life.

I recommend reading biographies of noteworthy persons to Keep Learning. Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote sterling biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Ron Chernow penned engaging books about George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and US Grant. David McCullough brings alive the formative years that Theodore Roosevelt spent as a rancher in North Dakota. His biography of John Adams will also pique your interest. Older Americans over age 65 spend 4.4 hours a day watching TV. Switching one of those hours each day to working the brain by reading books might improve longevity and quality of life.

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