The Benefits of Reading Books

By Temma Ehrenfeld  @temmaehrenfeld
July 27, 2023
The Benefits of Reading Books

The health benefits of reading books surprisingly include living longer and seeing the world of other points of view. Here's what you should know.

Although we think of reading books as an ideal retirement activity, older people spend less time on books than younger people and more time watching TV, yet they enjoy their TV time less. 

The benefits of reading books

At any age, try picking up a book. Besides finding yourself thrilled, you can keep your brain more agile, helping prevent cognitive decline in your later years.

Reading books is better for your health than reading magazines and newspapers, it turns out, whether on paper or electronically. In one study of a large group of Americans age 50 and up, those who read a book a half hour a day, on average, were 17 percent less likely to die during a 12-year period. Spending more time reading decreased the chance of dying by 23 percent.

To get an 11 percent reduction in their chances of death from reading magazines and newspapers, participants had to read more than 7 hours a week.


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You can read a book while walking on a treadmill. Walking briskly for 75 minutes a week can extend your life by almost two years, according to other research. You’d need to spend almost three times as much time reading for a similar benefit. 

What about watching TV?

It’s better to read instead of watching television, unless your passion is complex shows. As a habit built up over the years, watching TV is associated with a greater risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and dementia. Watching TV also tends to come at the expense of socializing or exercising, both of which are good for your health. 

Some older people may believe that TV is cheering them up, when they don’t really get the pleasure they expect. People over the age of 65, on average, spend a quarter of their time in front of the tube.

Authors of one large study were surprised to find that the seniors didn’t enjoy television as much as younger people do, liking other activities more. Earlier research supported the idea that TV could distract people from negative emotions.

“Yet, our study indicates that older adults report lower levels of positive emotion while watching TV when compared to other activities — which is not the case in younger adults,” said co-author Dilip V. Jeste, MD, a geriatric neuropsychiatrist.

Many people may find that it’s easier to watch TV than read because of declining eyesight or believing the sound helps them stay awake. Consider audio books and e-readers that allow you to increase the size of the font.

It’s important when you’re getting ready for bed, however, not to expose yourself to the light computers and e-readers emit, since the light will disrupt your body’s sleep patterns. Retirees might also think about reading when they are more alert, usually in the morning or mid-day.   

If you read literary fiction, you also may sharpen your ability to see the world from other points of view and appreciate the fine points of your own.

Among people in residential care, watching TV in the public area can be one of the few available social activities, helping you connect to the world through sports, news, and seasonal programming. Staff can prompt residents to talk about the shows they watch, recommends June Andrews, director of the Dementia Services Development Centre at the University of Stirling in Scotland. 

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July 27, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN