Read Your Way to Long Life?
Larry Thornberry
by

A study conducted by the Yale University School of Public Health purports to show that readers of books live longer than non-readers. So perhaps I’m not as close to my final chapter as I had imagined. These study results are personally comforting as I spend a lot of time under the lamp (and not at the tanning center).

According to the study of 3,635 people over 50, those who read as much as 3.5 hours a week were, 12 years on, 23 percent less likely to die than people who don’t read. Readers — speaking of books now, not newspapers and periodicals — could anticipate living almost two years longer than their non-reading counterparts. The more respondents read, the longer they lived, the researchers concluded, but “as little as 30 minutes a day was beneficial in terms of survival.” So if you have loved ones whom you wish to continue to have in your life for as long as possible, best get them books for Christmas. And if you wish to live long yourself, be advised to head for the bookshelf after you get home from the gym.

Speaking of gyms, I can always count on encountering enlightened and high-toned conversations at mine. I told a couple of old geezers there about the study, and added that I hoped I wouldn’t have to spend my extra 23 months in assisted living. A young fellow listening in said he didn’t want to live to be very old. (Young people are prone to saying stuff like this.) We asked him why not. He said the way things were going, by the time he wound up in a nursing home all the women there would be tattooed, and golden oldies would be rap. This young fellow is observant beyond his years, and these are sobering thoughts. But not quite enough to make me burn my library card.

Of course, these kinds of studies are tricky. Nothing is more complex and generally messy than human lives, which are impinged on by unaccountable variables. So it’s damnable hard to determine which variable is affecting which other, to sort out correlation from causation. This is true even when researchers are both competent and honest. And in what travels under the name of “social science,” researchers are so often more interested in advancing political and cultural agendas than they are in finding truth, wherever and whatever that turns out to be.

So it’s hard to rate this one, even though it would seem that the subject of reading wouldn’t carry much political baggage. There may be something causing both the reading and the longer life. So I would advise bookworms to, excuse the expression, not read too much into this. But keep turning those pages anyway. The rewards and plain pleasures of reading are many. Here’s Chicago writer Joseph Epstein from an essay on the subject: “Along with the love of style, I read in the hope of laughter, exaltation, insight, enhanced consciousness, and dare I say it, wisdom. I read, finally, hoping to get a little smarter about the world.”

Just so.

The books/periodicals distinction is interesting. Researchers account for it by saying, “books engage the reader’s mind more, providing more cognitive benefit, and therefore increasing the life span.” I’d be happy to see a follow-up that goes after any difference between fiction and non-fiction. I can sort of see the soothing effect of fiction, whereas non-fiction can rile up the blood. (This is also the effect of fried foods, according to the late and distinguished Professor Satchell Paige, who advised against them. He also counseled, “Don’t look back — something might be gaining on you.” Clearly a profound thinker was our Satch. But I digress.)

Sadly, my fiction/non-fiction reading ratio is all out of whack. I need to do something about this. But I keep getting these non-fiction books to read and review. I should have a reading-time bonus after the World Series is over, as I’m sticking to my resolve to take a knee on the entire NFL season, allowing that outfit’s over-paid, over-privileged, and pampered malcontents to whine on their own time. This will leave me more time to keep up with Prince Andrey, Pierre, and the various Bolkonskys, Rostovs, and Bezukhovs. I got through this behemoth with profit a couple of decades back. But I would very much like to take one more trip through it before going end of watch.

Happy reading, TAS regulars. To your health and long life (imagine a glass in my hand containing an adult beverage).

Larry Thornberry
Larry Thornberry
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Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.
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