Why Reading and Learning is Helpful for Aging

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In recent decades, even as smartphones, 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 performance.

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 Alzheimer’s.

Learning Holds Aging at Bay

It’s common knowledge that physical exercise keeps muscles and joints working at an optimum level—and maintains the 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 vigor.

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 pronunciations enhances 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.

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