The Benefits of Reading Books

By Temma Ehrenfeld  @temmaehrenfeld
February 22, 2017

The health benefits of reading books surprisingly include living longer and seeing the world of other points of view.

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

The benefits of reading books

At any age, try picking up a book — besides the fact that you may find yourself thrilled, studies suggest that reading is one way to keep your brain more agile, which helps prevent cognitive decline in our 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. If you spent more time, you decreased your chance of dying by 23 percent over those years.

On the other hand, to get an 11 percent reduction in your chances of death by reading magazines and newspapers, you’d have to read more than 7 hours a week.


YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Forgiving Is Good for You


Can you read a book while walking briskly on a treadmill? You can extend your life by almost two years, on average, by walking briskly for 75 minutes a week, according to other research. You’d need to spend almost three times as much time reading for a similar benefit, so don’t skimp on exercise or sleep to read. 

Do read instead of watching television, unless you’re opting for complex shows. As a habit built up over the years, watching TV is associated with a greater risk of obesity, diabetes, and dementia. TV-time also tends to come at the expense of socializing or exercising, which are good for your health. 

What about watching TV?

Some older people may believe that TV is cheering them up, when it actually isn’t giving them the pleasure they expect. People over the age of 65, on average, spend a quarter of their time before the tube. But the authors of one large study were surprised to find that the seniors didn’t enjoy it 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 Jeste, MD, a professor of psychiatry and neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine

Many people may find that it’s easier to watch TV than read because of declining eyesight or because the sound helps them stay awake. Consider audio books and e-readers that allow users to increase the size of the font. However, it’s important not to expose yourself to the special kind of light emitted by computers and e-readers at times when you’re getting ready for bed, since the light will disrupt your body’s sleep patterns. Retirees might also think about reading during the times they are more alert — morning or mid-day, perhaps, rather than bedtime.   

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. After all, women in Jane Austen’s day thought one way about marriage, you think your way, and your daughter thinks hers. 

Among people in residential care, watching TV in the public area can be one of the few available social activities, and help keep us connected to the world through sports, news, and seasonal programming. Staff can help by prompting residents to talk about the show, recommends June Andrews, director of the Dementia Services Development Centre at the University of Stirling in Scotland. 


YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Daydreaming Is Good for Your Health


April 02, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN