If the winter days seem dingy and drab, I have a suggestion to perk things up: Read a book.
I recently attended a lecture that is part of the UCLA’s Alumni Association program about lifetime learning called “2nd Act.” Dr. Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry and director of the Longevity Center at UCLA, presented the latest research on neuroscience and aging, and touched on some activities that might improve cognition as we advance in age and (hopefully!) wisdom.
Exercise, learning something new, socializing — these and other activities have long been noted in other articles and news reports as ways to keep our minds moving throughout our “golden years.” But another activity that Small mentioned as beneficial to overall cognition and longevity really made me sit up and cheer: reading books.
Small’s source was a study conducted by Yale University researchers, published in Social Science and Medicine in September 2016, that looked at the reading habits of 3,635 individuals. Regardless of gender, wealth, health or education, reading books impacted longevity significantly more positively than reading newspapers or other formats. People who read books at least three and a half hours a week lived an average of two years more than other readers.
Like most people, I learned to read as a very young child. I recently came across some of the books from my childhood and noticed how worn they were, much used and much loved. They’re not worth much financially, but in terms of setting the foundation for a lifetime of reading pleasure, they are invaluable and still bring a smile, yes, even my tattered copy of “Mary Poppins.”
Lately, I have been reading works by several saints, including St. John XXIII (“Journal of a Soul”) and St. Francis de Sales (“Introduction to the Devout Life”). Reading their own words is like visiting with these holy people and builds faith and understanding of our Catholic traditions.
I’m also enjoying historical novels, nonfiction histories, health books and a mystery or two (or more). All of this variety and added years besides? What a bounty. And at a time when it has never been more amazing or easy to be a reader.
Some fear that books might be endangered. Many bookstores have struggled or closed. Yet, technological advances like the e-reader make it simple for people to take a virtual library on the road. Also, they make it possible to modify the reading experience for those who need larger fonts or who want to listen to a book, rather than take it in word by word (perhaps not the experience included in the study I mentioned, but still valuable).
Many libraries have joined the e-book phenomenon offering loaner e-books along with physical books. A number of authors I know are publishing directly to e-book, circumventing the traditional publishing route and, thus, retaining more creative control over their work while supplying the reader with even more choices, a happy development for those of us who like to read many different genres and styles.
Physical books are still being published, and where some bookstores have closed, other retail venues seem to be stepping up, stocking at least a small selection of the latest publications.
As we look ahead to the future of books, I think we can rest assured we’ll never want for something to read. And as we lose ourselves in the pages of a good story, we’ll not only be banishing the midwinter blahs, but we’ll be giving ourselves the joy of the moment and for years to come.
Pratt writes for Catholic News Service. He website is www.maureenpratt.com.