Reading books as you age can turn the page on mental and physical well being
WRITTEN BY Lauren B. Johnson
PHOTOGRAPH BY Dragon Images
Where might this summer take you? Perhaps the Pink City of Jaipur? How about an isolated cabin in rural Montana? Maybe the vibrant Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights? Or a flashy Malibu mansion? Whether you prefer to board a plane or travel via armchair, books provide a passport for anyone to go anywhere. One in four American adults doesn’t take advantage of this novel approach to exploration, though, with some studies pointing to a decrease in the reading habit among the 65-plus crowd. Beyond just offering an easy escape, however, bibliophilia—a love of books—might be the ticket to a long and healthy life.
Reading strengthens an intricate network of neural connections in the brain, making lifelong bookworms less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. This sort of regular mental exercise reduces the rate of memory decline by 32 percent while also sharpening analytical skills. Research has shown that reading hardbacks and paperbacks for as little as 30 minutes each day extends a person’s life expectancy by two years. Those with their nose in a book for more than three and a half hours weekly are one-quarter more likely to live longer than those who don’t read at all, reports Social Science & Medicine. A long-term love of literary fiction in particular has also been scientifically shown to boost relationship skills, including the ability to empathize with others.
In addition to its mental merits, page-turning also boasts several physical benefits, including reduced stress and better sleep. A University of Sussex study found that reading eases muscle tension, lowers blood pressure and slows heart rate in a matter of minutes, quicker even than a walk or cup of coffee. Swapping TV for a tome as part of a regular bedtime routine also signals the body that it’s time to rest, easing you into a peaceful night’s sleep.
Turns out, reading can lead to a happy ending for your health. So no matter what your vacation plans hold this summer, be sure to book a reading getaway every day and open a new chapter on aging well.
A Closer Look
Many people with low vision close the book on a reading habit, but with today’s tech options, poor eyesight doesn’t have to impair reading
- E-book reader: Incorporates features such as text with good contrast and magnification, reduced glare and text-to-speech capabilities on a large handheld screen
- Audiobook app: Provides listening access to an endless library using a smartphone, tablet, computer or iPod
- Reading telescopes: Mount directly on eyeglass lenses to provide an amplified view from a normal reading distance
- Magnifier: Available in a variety of models, from a simple handheld magnifying glass to a lighted tabletop stand that can be positioned over a book
- Video magnifier: Uses a camera lens to display heightened images of reading material on a desktop monitor or TV screen
- Portable electronic magnifier: Zoom in on any page with a handheld LED screen similar to a lightweight tablet or iPad
- Text-to-voice device: Converts printed text into computer audio with a compact handheld scanner
Each month, enthusiastic readers gather at the Lowcountry and Waring Senior Centers for in-person discussions about selected contemporary novels. To learn more about these book clubs, visit lowcountryseniorcenter.com.
New Research: Heart Smarts
The most recent advice for preventing today’s powerful consumer tech from interfering with cardiac devices
Medical researchers regularly check the pulse of the ever-changing consumer tech industry to ensure patients with implantable cardiac devices never miss a beat. Recent findings published in Heart Rhythm Case Reports indicate the potential for interference between smart technology and cardiac devices such as cardioverter-defibrillators and permanent pacemakers. When the study placed the magnetic bands of smart watches and fitness trackers close to a cardiac device, the simulation frequently caused the cardiac device to deactivate or switch modes. Similar results were seen with Apple’s iPhone 12 (released last fall). While this scenario hasn’t been reported outside of the experiment, the Food and Drug Administration does offer the following advice out of an abundance of caution: To avoid complications, patients should keep magnetic wristbands at least six inches away from cardiac devices (meaning they may need to switch from the left to the right wrist) and avoid wearing them to sleep. People should also not stow cellular phones in a breast pocket and be sure to conduct phone calls with the ear opposite a cardiac device.