In recent decades, even as smart phones, social media, and online searches take up
bigger chunks of our time, reading has been proven to be of significant benefit to people
of all ages. Babies and toddlers who are introduced to books develop stronger
vocabularies, cognitive abilities, and imaginations. As children go through school,
bookworms tend to perform better in all subjects, even those that do not involve
reading. These benefits stay with readers long after graduation and positively affect job
Reading Equals Longer Life
But what about people approaching their golden years? Do those who enjoy reading
avoid the physical and mental declines that often accompany aging and live longer?
The answer is a resounding yes. Individuals over 50 who read three and a half hours a
week (half an hour a day) live two years longer than their non-reading counterparts. The
more people hit the books, the better the results. And if the reading material is attention-
grabbing, like a thrilling novel, the activity has a threefold benefit: it improves brain
function, acts as a stress-buster, and even lowers the chances of developing
Learning Holds Aging at Bay
It’s common knowledge that physical exercise keeps muscles and joints working at an
optimum level—and maintains heart and respiratory health. The brain also needs a
workout to function well. Like other parts of the anatomy, our grey matter performs
better the more it is used. When people learn new skills and increase their knowledge,
their thinking patterns and memory benefit. Newly acquired information and abilities
cause nerve fibers to extend from brain cells and form additional networks. These
increased neural connections go a long way to promote brain strength and youthful
So, like reading, learning a new subject or skill is a powerful anti-aging weapon. Adults
who learn another language, for example, reap a double benefit: a longer attention span
and greater alertness. Even older folks, who frequently experience a decline in mental
functioning, find that their cognitive abilities increase.
That’s because achieving proficiency in a new language stimulates various brain
centers. Learning different grammatical rules and new sounds and pronunciation
enhance thinking outside the box and an understanding of language. There is another
perk: the group setting of most language learning increases socialization—a
pleasurable way to keep the brain young. And, like reading among children and young
adults, the positive effects last long after the class ends.
The Key to Success
Whatever mental anti-aging methods suit your fancy, the important thing is to keep it
challenging. If your usual reading fare is mystery novels, check out the biography
section at the library. Instead of doing a daily crossword, play a game of Scrabble with
the computer or a friend. Take a different route to work, school, or the supermarket.
Learn a new swimming stroke. By keeping yourself challenged, you will not only grow
new neural pathways but exercise different areas of the brain—a sure way to keep
yourself in top form physically and mentally. The golden years can truly be the best
years of our lives.