Monday, April 22

Reading books and longevity


A recent Washington Post headline read: “Good news on National Book Lovers Day: A chapter a day might keep the Grim Reaper away – at least a little longer.”

The newspaper was quoting a study by Yale University researchers, published in the journal – Social Science & Medicine – which concluded that “book readers experienced a 20 per cent reduction in risk of mortality over the 12 years of follow-up compared to non-book readers.”

The study was conducted on 3,635 participants, all older than 50 and divided into three groups – those who didn’t read books, those who read up to 3.5 hours a week and those who read more than 3.5 hours a week.

The findings show that book readers survived almost two years longer than non-readers.

Compared with the latter, those reading up to three and a half hours a week were 17 per cent less likely to die over 12 years of follow-up while those reading more than that were 23 per cent less likely to die.

Book readers lived an average of almost two years longer than those who did not read at all, according to the study.

“People who report as little as half-hour a day of book reading had a significant survival advantage over those who did not read,” said Becca R Levy, the senior author and a professor of epidemiology at Yale.

“And the survival advantage remained after adjusting for wealth, education, cognitive ability and many other variables.”

The researchers concluded that reading promotes a “significant survival advantage” just like a healthy diet and exercise.

The findings may not be very surprising if you know other studies have shown reading novels appears to boost both brain connectivity and empathy. It’s fascinating that “reading books is tied to a longer life.”

But what about people who read magazines or newspapers? Although there’s a similar correlation, it is, unfortunately, weaker than the one with reading books.

With so many distractions from social media that provide news feeds and trending stories, many of us have, for a while now, taken books off our laps.

These online stories, usually gossipy in nature, do not need much cognitive thinking.

So readers, who read for information, filter their source of news.

But the trend is that even some printed newspapers are moving into the mad rush for news without any apparent central message or merely sending out unclear signals, causing some hurt to the parties concerned and alarm to the public.

This week, a reputable newspaper Down Under front-paged a story, focusing the sentiments of a woman on her friendship with Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, the pilot of MH370.

The article zeroed in on Fatimah Pardi’s emotional response to the loss of her friend.

And she appears to tell the world she has a clue to the one of the world’s aviation mysteries, seemingly implying she knows more than what she is telling the newspaper but won’t reveal her last Whatsapp message from Zaharie.

The headline of this human interest story – MH370 pilot’s friendship with mystery woman revealed – is inappropriate, given there are loved ones of the 238 passengers and crew on board still awaiting a convincing conclusion and closure.

“The last conversation was just between me and him. I don’t want to talk about it,” Fatimah told the newspaper’s correspondent based in Jakarta.

She also said: “I’m afraid what I say will be misunderstood. It was a personal matter, a private issue.”

According to the report, this kindergarten teacher turned political worker has been interviewed four times by Malaysian investigators.

She did say she had refused all interviews because she was afraid what she said would be misinterpreted and hurt the feelings of Captain Zaharie’s family.

One reader commented: “This story isn’t particularly helpful to anyone, certainly not the families of those on board.

So why even report it.

“How about just leaving the gossips and unsubstantiated speculations out of the papers and waiting until there is some solid evidence on what happened, if any is ever found? “This nonsense sounds as if it belongs in a gossip magazine, not a serious newspaper and it can’t be helpful to the families left in limbo, waiting for real solid information.”

So it’s not surprising that “book reading contributes to a survival advantage significantly greater than observed for reading newspapers or magazines.”

But, don’t just stop reading newspapers! There are data, messages and even “eye-opening facts” that inform, educate and bring some authorities out of slumberland.

Now, read this headline: “Hello, we’re talking about the same mosquito.”

State Health Department director Dr Jamilah Hashim said this at mid-week when local councils were still waiting for specific instructions from the Health Department before carrying out Zika virus preventive measures.

The lady director felt strongly that councils should not wait to wage the war against Zika because Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya are all spread by Aedes mosquitoes, and the fight against these vectors has been going on for years.

Her message rings loud and clear: “The fight against Dengue, Zika and Chikungunnya involves the same control measures, the same mosquito.

Hence, local councils do not need specific instructions from the Health Department to carry out these measures.”

All said and done, one couldn’t help but be tempted to ask “would the Yale researchers have agreed that longevity will increase with credible and informative reports in newspapers?” Obviously, there is room for further research in this area.

Of course, the best is spending time reading the Good Book so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord as long as you live by keeping all the decrees and commands that He gives you so that you may enjoy long life.

As Genesis 6:3 says: Then the Lord said My Spirit shall not strive with man forever because he also is flesh; nevertheless, his days shall be one hundred and 20 years.”

This journalist is taking a break – a book on her lap and enjoying the onset of Spring, the season of freshness and renewal.

Happy Malaysia Day in advance.