Reading and Longevity

Here is a factoid to consider in celebration of New Orleans Magazine’s 50th year: Magazine readers live longer.

It is true; at least that’s what Yale University’s School of Public Health says. It is also true that I’m stretching the truth a bit. Yale researchers discovered in a 2016 study of reading habits that readers in general live longer. In fact, the greatest benefits came from reading books, but that’s a small detail. The study found that anyone who reads books for more than 3.5 hours a week will live an average of two years longer than someone who doesn’t. Those results were reported in many publications for obvious reasons.

In short, if magazine readers throw in a few books, they’ll have more time to enjoy all their favorite things, such as reading more magazines, novels, newspapers and cereal boxes – they all count to some degree.

And even though some believe that print publications will eventually follow typewriters to dusty shelves in the basements of oddity museums, print magazines were read by 91 percent of the 215.7 million magazine consumers in 2014. A fact book published by The Association of Magazine Media (, says that 95 percent of magazine readers under age 25 read print, a comforting statistic for all lovers of the inked versions.

Clearly lots of people love magazines. Coming home to a mailbox stuffed with a favorite magazine is like hearing the call of your winning bingo number. All day long, stress and more stress. And then, at the end of the day, you see a glossy spread of rainbow-hued petunias to escape to in Country Gardens or the possibility of laughing out loud to one of Modine Gunch’s escapades. Do you remember the New Orleans Magazine issue where Modine gets locked in the garage with no clicker?

 Modine’s life makes reading emails from students professing to have pink eye feel like a lark in the park. If these wayward students would just say, “I missed my mid-term exam because I was engrossed in the latest Marilynne Robinson novel or Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, I’d leave campus smiling each day. Alas, an obsessive reading excuse has yet to cross my computer screen.

Reading is a habit that should start early. A number of studies underline the importance of early reading skills for success in school and in life. Savvy parents encourage reading. Even comic books can create life-long reading habits.

 My own first reading material for pleasure were Archie comic books. I read them along with titles such as Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. That reading list may sound an odd combo, but the latter titles, leather-bound and oh so deep, were the only novels in the house. A newspaper came each day, but as is true of most children meeting puberty, news of the latest train wreck wasn’t yet interesting, We acquired a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica ostensibly for the occasional school book report, but was, in fact, my working class father’s excuse for shelling out the money. My mother probably didn’t need convincing; after all, she brought in Dickens and Bronte, but it did turn out that he was the only one to read those fact-filled pages – from the beginning of A to the end of Z.

About the time my parents were paying off the encyclopedias, city magazines as a publication genre were just emerging. Los Angeles Magazine claims to have been one of the first in the early 1960s, but it didn’t take long for others to follow. Filled with community trivia, such as where to get the best hamburgers to important civic matters, just about every urban center sports one today, from Charlotte to Honolulu.

Why do people read magazines? That question, posed by Publishing Executive, an online newsletter analyzing the magazine industry, was followed by this succinct answer: “to learn and to enjoy.”

Magazines are good fillers for those awkward waiting times in doctors’ offices. Just a couple of months ago, I visited one of those reception rooms – boring beige floors, walls and picture frames. Fortunately, a National Geographic rested nearby and within seconds I was engrossed in an article about DNA research that informed me scientists can alter the DNA of pigs to eradicate viruses that prevent using their organs for human transplants. Who knew?

One industry article says there are over 2,000 magazines published today, and even obscure ones have devoted readers, many who still prefer print.

For magazine lovers – and hoarders – physicality is important. Consider the Heavy Duty Truck reader who used the pen name “Alamo” when he left an online comment about the enduring nature of print. He says that he has “a stash of HDT from the (19)70s and ’80s, which I reread from time to time, a short literary ‘vacation’ back in time!” Another HDT reader says he uses the magazine’s articles as instruction materials for his tractor-trailer school. Magazines are educational and life-enhancing.

The aforementioned Yale researchers discovered the life-lengthening properties of reading by separating 3,500 people over age 50 into three groups: non-readers, those who read up to 3.5 hours a week and more frequent readers, says an August posting on After 12 years, the researchers discovered that the avid book readers “were found 23 percent less likely to die” and the up to 3.5 hours a week reading group was 17 percent less likely to die. The results held true, the report says, even after data adjustments for age and income.

There could be another reason why the frequent readers lived longer, though. Maybe they actually read and heeded the health warnings on their packages of Marlboros.



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