Reading Books Might Help You Live Longer

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Spending 30 minutes a day with a good book may add years to your life, according to a new study. Out of 3,635 people surveyed about their health and reading habits, bookworms were 20 percent less likely to die over the next 12 years—even after researchers controlled for factors such as gender, education, and cognitive ability.

The study, published in the September issue of Social Science & Medicine, was conducted by researchers at Yale University who wanted to see how reading books and periodicals might affect longevity. They noted that while most sedentary behavior—like watching television—is known to increase the risk of death, previous studies have found that reading either reduces that risk or has no effect at all.

That previous research also combined different types of reading materials, and did not suggest why, exactly, reading might be beneficial. So the Yale researchers came up with a new hypothesis: Because books tend to present themes and characters in greater length and depth, they wrote in the paper’s introduction, “we speculated that books engage readers’ minds more than newspapers and magazines, leading to cognitive benefits that drive the effect of reading on longevity.”

They were right. When compared with people who read none at all, those who read books for up to three and a half hours per week were 17 percent less likely to die over the course of the study. For those who read even more than that, the reduced risk jumped to 23 percent. (Inspired? Check out our list of the best new books to read this month.)

People who preferred periodicals over books also had a slight advantage over non-readers: They were 11 percent less likely to die, but only if they read for more than seven hours a week.

The participants were all over age 50 at the start of the study, and varied widely in their economic, marital, employment, and education statuses. To help ensure that reading was responsible for the difference in life spans, the researchers controlled for many of these factors.

The study authors also wanted to make sure that book readers weren’t living longer just because they were smarter to begin with, so they gave participants cognition tests at the start of the study and three years later. The survival advantage persisted, even after adjusting for these results.

It was also clear that reading had a positive effect on brain power in those first three years—further suggesting that the survival advantage was due to the “immersive nature that helps maintain cognitive status,” the authors wrote.

On average, book readers lived 23 months longer than non-book readers. And the fact that the findings held true for all types of book readers—men, women, rich, poor—means that the results may have broad implications.

The study, which began in 2000, did not ask about e-books or audiobooks. It would be interesting to include these in future research, the authors wrote, especially since they are more likely to be read in a non-sedentary manner. Future studies might also compare different genres of books, or fiction versus non-fiction.

In their conclusion, the authors point out that adults over 65 spend nearly four and a half hours a day watching television. Redirecting their leisure time into reading books may help them live longer, they suggest. And for those who read mostly newspapers and magazines, switching to books—even just some of the time—might be worthwhile.

This is a “novel finding,” they wrote (pun intended), and good news for book lovers in more ways than one: “The robustness of our findings suggest that reading books may not only introduce some interesting ideas and characters, it may also give more years of reading.”


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Women Feel Better About Their Bodies Than They Used To

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Though women are still more dissatisfied than men when it comes to their size, a new study reveals that women’s views of their bodies are softening over the years.

The study, presented Friday at the American Psychological Association’s 124th Annual Convention, researchers found that women’s feelings about how thin they are have improved significantly over time. Looking at data from more than 100,000 men and women over 31 years, they found that from 1981 to 2011, on average women’s dissatisfaction dropped 3.3 points.

Though the change may seem small, study author Bryan Karazsia, an associate professor of psychology at The College of Wooster, says that statistically the drop is “substantial.” The researchers also looked at data from over 23,800 men and women over 14 years who were asked about their satisfaction with their muscular build. Men were more likely than women to report feeling dissatisfied with their muscles and that trend remained stable over time.

“If you walk into a store and see mens mannequins, they are really large,” says Karazsia, speculating why the opinion has remained unchanged for men. “Men just don’t look like that.”

What might be responsible for women’s drop in body criticisms? The researchers don’t know for sure, but they have a few theories. One is that Americans in general are getting larger. More than two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, and Karazsia says “because people are larger, people are seeing what’s around them and feel more normal and less concerned.”

It’s also possible that the depictions of women in media are changing. Karazsia cites the popularity of ads by Dove, a company known for soap and deodorant, which feature women of all different body sizes and races. “You are seeing more images in the media of body diversity,” says Karazsia. “As those ideals are shifting, I think people are becoming a little more critical of the extreme images they see and the media is embracing [the idea] that bodies of all shapes and sizes can still sell products.”

There is also a possibility that a new body ideal is replacing women’s desire to be thin. Though the researchers didn’t look at the trend specifically, Karazsia said colleagues wondered whether a trend toward being lean and toned rather than thin also had a role.

“I am optimistic that [this study] is good news,” says Karazsia. “I am a dad of young girls so when I saw these findings I thought it was hopeful.”


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Seared Salmon with Green Peppercorn Sauce

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Seared Salmon with Green Peppercorn Sauce Recipe
Seared Salmon with Green Peppercorn Sauce
A simple sauce of piquant green peppercorns, lemon juice and butter top this seared salmon recipe. Green peppercorns come from the same plant as black ones, but are harvested before they mature. Typically packed in vinegar, they have a refreshingly sharp flavor. Look for them near the capers in most supermarkets. Serve with smashed red potatoes and sautéed kale.

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3 Reasons You Sometimes Have Déjà Vu, According to Science

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You know that feeling you get when you step inside a new house or walk around a foreign city—places you know you’ve never been before—and you can’t help but think, I’ve done this already? It's déjà vu, and if you've never had it before, take it from us: It’s kind of creepy.

Déjà vu is French for “already seen,” and about two out of three people have experienced the phenomenon at one time or another, according to a 2003 review in the journal Psychological Bulletin. Despite being fairly common, “it’s not a widely studied subject,” says Alice Medalia, PhD, a professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center. And because déjà vu is a subjective experience—in other words, it’s difficult to induce in research subjects—testing the theories behind it can be tricky.

That said, researchers have a few guesses about why we experience déjà vu (and no, it's probably not flashbacks to a previous life):

You've been somewhere similar before

Some researchers believe déjà vu is triggered when you enter an environment similar to one you've experienced in the past. For example, you could experience it when you enter a hotel lobby where the furniture is configured the same way as your childhood home's living room. 

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Researchers tested that theory in a 2009 study published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. They showed volunteers images that had nothing to do with one another—a fenced-in courtyard, and then later, a locker room—and the volunteers felt déjà vu because the images were composed in a very similar way. The researchers concluded that there was probably a connection between déjà vu and the feelings of “familiarity.”

You travel a lot 

People who travel and people who can recall their dreams are more likely to experience déjà vu than those who stay at home or don’t remember their dreams, according to the 2003 review. These people can draw on a wider range of sources (either from, say, their adventures Europe, or just their own imagination), so it makes sense that they should think other environments feel familiar, too.

Something's up with your brain

Some people who have temporal lobe epilepsy (a type of epilepsy that occurs in the part of your brain that handles short-term memory) experience déjà vu right before they have a seizure—another sign that the phenomenon may be connected with the way memories are activated. Plus, it’s why some experts think déjà vu is triggered by a kind of disruption in the firing of neurons in the brain, says Dr. Medalia.

It could also be the result of your brain struggling to process multiple pieces of information, but for some reason, can’t align them correctly, she says. That lack of “synchrony,” in med-speak, might be responsible for that déjà vu feeling.

RELATED: 21 Reasons You'll Live Longer Than Your Friends

The bottom line?

Regardless of what’s happening (or what’s causing it), for the vast majority of people, déjà vu is pretty harmless. Unless you’re experiencing an epileptic seizure—and in that case, there are plenty of other signs to watch out for—it’s a relatively normal experience.

And you never know—maybe that castle in London looks so familiar because, in your past life, you were Kate Middleton’s great-great-great-great grandmother-in-law. Hey, we can dream, right?

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