Good news, bookworms: a new study has revealed that those who read for at least 30 minutes each day are more likely to enjoy a longer life.
Based on a study of 3,635 people aged 50 or older, those who spent time buried in a book survived almost two years longer on average than those who didn't. To put it another way, readers had a "23-month survival advantage", the researchers write.
The findings, reported by a team from Yale University's School of Public Health, showed that the more people read, the more likely they were to live longer, and just 3.5 hours a week was enough to make a difference.
The study only shows an association between reading and long life, rather than a cause and effect, so we can't read too much into this particular result. But it does tie into existing research that supports the idea that reading really can help keep the mind active and healthy.
The Harvard researchers suggest that the slow, immersive process of digging deep into a book creates a "cognitive engagement" effect – something that's backed up by previous research from Emory University in Atlanta, which found that reading a novel stimulated and strengthened language-processing regions in the brain.
In other words, it's possible that reading exercises the brain in the same way a gym session exercises the body.
The researchers also suggest that reading fiction could increase feelings of empathy, strengthening our connections with the people and the world around us, and contributing to a more engaged, happier, and therefore longer, life.
Interestingly, the study found that reading books was much more likely to increase a person's lifespan than reading newspapers or magazines.
"This effect is likely because books engage the reader's mind more – providing more cognitive benefit, and therefore increasing the lifespan," one of the researchers, Avni Bavishi, told Alison Flood at The Guardian.
The people sampled for the study were split up into three groups: those who didn't read at all, those who read for up to 3.5 hours a week, and those who read for more than 3.5 hours a week.
Allowing for factors such as gender, race, wealth, and education, after 12 years had passed, those in the '3.5 hours plus' group were found to be 23 percent less likely to die during that time period. Those in the 'up to 3.5 hours' group were 17 percent less likely to die than those who didn't read at all.
The researchers will now look at whether there are any noticeable differences between reading fiction and non-fiction, and whether using e-books and audiobooks is as beneficial as reading traditional paper novels.
The findings add to existing evidence that suggests how good reading can be for you. A 2003 study found that regular reading keeps the brain active and could help keep dementia at bay, while research from 2009 showed that reading also reduces stress levels.
While more research will be needed before we can conclude that it's our love of books that actually promotes longer life, there's definitely no harm in starting that novel you've been meaning to get around to.
The findings have been published in Social Science & Medicine.