Reading books can prolong your life

I  have always loved reading.

Like so many others I cannot recall when I learned to read but became quite proficient at an early age. I spent many happy hours in wonderful libraries in Hackney, London, where I grew up.

Reading is an essential part of my life. There is literally not one day that goes by when I do not read. Since I retired five years ago I have had the time to spend reading whatever I want. I have decided that I want to keep learning, since I believe that it is of prime importance to keep the brain active as one ages.

I do not believe that watching television or videos has the same mental impact that reading print has. I tend to read both actual books and electronic books. I appreciate that there is a real difference between these two but it is the interaction of your mind with the printed word that is still the same.

Yesterday  I read a report about a study by researchers at Yale University as to whether it can be scientifically proven that  reading improves your longevity.

In this study the researchers looked at the lifestyles of people aged 65+. In particular they compared the activities of passively watching television and how , in reading, there are a number of  cognitive activities involved. Reading the text, decoding it, comprehending the meaning and, in the case of novels, the extensive use of the imagination, in recreating scenes in one’s head and being able to follow dialogue and adjust for accent.

The problem with television is that it is all done for you. You do not need to do much more than watch and comprehend. In some popular television there is very little comprehension required. You may need to think about the quality of someone’s singing or close your eyes quickly to one of the many scenes of excessive violence.

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The Yale study collected data to see if the 65+ groups who watched T. V. but did little reading, lived longer (it was a long-term  study) than those who read more than they watched T.V. and specifically, who read books (I.e. not magazines and newspapers).

The report stated:

Overall, during follow-up, 33% of non-book readers died, compared to 27% of book readers, write the academics Avni Bavishi, Martin Slade and Becca Levy from the Yale University School of Public Health, in their paper A Chapter a Day: Association of Book Reading With Longevity.

“When readers were compared to non-readers at 80% mortality (the time it takes 20% of a group to die), non-book readers lived 85 months (7.08 years), whereas book readers lived 108 months (9.00 years) after baseline,” write the researchers. “Thus, reading books provided a 23-month survival advantage.”

Bavishi said that the more that respondents read, the longer they lived, but that “as little as 30 minutes a day was still beneficial in terms of survival”

Of course there are always exceptions to the scientific proof. You will no doubt find a 100 year old who prides him or herself on hardly reading throughout their long life. But they are the exception. Overall, it is pleasing for those of us who love books to see that reading a book will give us more time on the planet and as the article concludes, more time to read more books!

Hans Rosling; an inspirational human

I first came across Hans Rosling, as many did, by looking at one of his highly entertaining and informative Ted Talks.

Here was a Doctor and Lecturer in International Health issues from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden showing us in his inimitable way how we often have no real idea about the actual statistics about development, population and climate change really are.

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He and his son had developed a brilliant animation programme that allowed you to see statistics almost come alive before your eyes. An example can be seen in the following photo:

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The key thing with Hans Rosling was that he wanted data to be available and discussed. He was in favour of richer countries supporting developing countries because he had the data to prove just how significant the inputs have been in terms of lower deaths from disease, greater life spans, the reduction of population, particularly by the growing availability of education for girls.

As the Guardian obituary (link above)   stated:

“Given the timing, with all the talk about fake news, alternative facts, concern over misinformation and propaganda-by-numbers, Rosling stood for the exact opposite – the idea we can have debates about what could or should be done, but that facts and an open mind are needed before informed discussions can begin.”

He is a sad loss for all of us at a time when we can ill-afford to miss his wisdom, his humour and especially his optimism.

Education in an age of misinformation

I have for a number of years now been a proponent of the widest possible use of information technology in schools.

My most popular post is https://malbell.com/2010/08/27/10-reasons-we-should-allow-mobile-phones-into-schools/ . I regularly get a number of hits on this post and it was my most commented upon. It is number 1 on a Google search for the subject (exact words).

I am though increasingly worried about the fact that pupils and students seem to lack any education into how to actually search and use the vast resources that are available to them on the net.

It seems to me that we live in an age where we are increasingly given what people like to call “False News” but which really should just lies under the general label of “misinformation”.

Too many students will research as far as the first 5 entries on Google and then take great chunks of the material (by highlighting and pasting) and then (if you are lucky) draw it all to a conclusion or more than likely take a conclusive statement from one of the entries and then use this.

The wider problem is that students are not interrogating the information, checking it, deciding whether it is real or not. They seem to rely a lot on Wikipedia. Now I am a supporter of Wikipedia and believe that it is a good thing that there is a source of “information” that anyone can contribute to and which can be edited by others.

The problem is though that there is a lot of unverified information that is presented as fact and that is then used to substantiate arguments in essays.

One of my internet heroes has always ben Howard Rheingold and he came up with an excellent term for this subject. He said that pupils and students needed to have an education that allowed them to be “crap detectors”.

Now more than ever we need to be educating our children in how to use the web. How to detect lies, misinformation and propaganda disguised as “fact”.  There is nothing to be gained if they all have their mobile phones to use and then look up Google and use some piece of fiction and call it fact!

Why we need environmentalists

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The picture above is typical of the spin that we have been getting since the ascendency of Donald Trump to the White House, of the supposed “threat” of environmentalists to our freedom.

The questions that  immediately sprung to my mind on seeing this picture were:

(1) On what basis did this adviser make the statement that he did?

(2) Whose freedom was he referring to?

I did some internet research and discovered the following:

The “Adviser” was Myron Ebell. He has come into the Trump administration from working for the Libertarian Think Tank “The Competitive Enterprise Institute”. As can be seen from below he has been busy recently including making a reasonably unpublicised visit to Number 10 Downing Street to discuss the Trump administration’s views on the dangers of climate change experts alarmist views and their effect on world trade and of course the “special relationship” (and future trade deals) with Britain following Brexit. It appears that Mrs May was too busy to actually meet him!

 

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I found the following profile on Mr Ebell from the Competitive Enterprise Institute website:

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Further research into the educational credentials of Mr Ebell to dismiss the scientists warnings about the threat to our planet of global warming show that this was his educational background:

 

 

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Ebell, as can be seen from above is a political scientist and historian. I can make similar claims myself to this educational background. I do not though feel that I have the knowledge or ability to take issue with scientists who have looked deeply into the subject of climate change.

This brings me to the second question that came to my mind when looking at the initial photograph. Whose freedom?

Mr Ebell’s past employees at the Competitive Enterprise Institute are funded by various industrial organisations, including a large contribution from the energy giant Exxon Mobile (whose CEO, Rex Tillerson has just left to become the new Secretary of State in the Trump administration).

Ebell has been going on for years about the freedom of organisations such as Exxon to continue to find and exploit energy despite the cost to the environment.By denying climate change it gives these organisations “freedom” to continue to put profit before environment and has no concern about the future of the planet and its inhabitants.

So my answer to Mr Ebell is that we do need environmentalists because if they are silenced the consequences for our planet, in my opinion, does not bear thinking about.

Truth stranger than fiction

It seems to me that many of the events of last year would have been rejected as a scenario for a film if they had been put forward the year before.

With hindsight we know that Britain would vote to leave the European Union in the so-called “Brexit” and that Donald Trump (yes Donald Trump!!) would become the 45th President of the United States.

In the last two days I have watched a film called “The Primary Instinct” which was made in 2015. The film is a one-man show, really a long ambling true set of stories taken from the life of the protagonist, Stephen Tobolowsky.

Tobolowsky is a veteran character actor who freely admits to having appeared in about a quarter of all films made in Hollywood over the last forty years (or at least he says  it feels like that). He is also a great storyteller. The important point though is that all his stories are true, always based upon events in his life. He lives by the maxim “truth trumps fiction”.

The joy of Tobolowsky is that he is able to ramble down what look to all the world like blind alleys and then hit you with a powerful point that has been made by the story. It is homespun philosophy that can make you cry. He talks about his father’s blindness and his mother’s Alzheimer’s. He tells you about an incident that happened as a child that would have a powerful implication to an event that happened much later in his life. He talks about his mother attending his Hollywood house in the midst of a drunken, drug taking near orgy and making a point that put all of the events into perspective.

Like all great storytelling it takes you on a journey and you feel compelled to follow it until the end.

It made me wonder though at the power of truth over fiction. As I said at the beginning of this post, who would have believed the events of 2016 if it would have been written down in 2015? Here’s another one for you. I am sitting in a room in Los Angeles in late 2000 at a large film studio. A writer comes in with a scenario for a film.

The film is about a group of fanatical Moslem extremists who would hijack planes and fly them into the famous twin towers of the World Trade Building in New York and also attempt to crash into the Pentagon in Washington.

The long suffering script reader would have a short answer…. I don’t need to tell you what that would have been.

Truth is indeed stranger than fiction. We live in very strange and frightening times. I cannot really conceive of where we are heading but past experience tells me that whatever I forecast will be miles away from what transpires!

One Small Voice

Last Saturday thousands and thousands  of people from all over the World marched in protest against the threat to women’s rights and indeed human  rights with the election of Donald Trump to 45th President of the United States.

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Carole King took part in a small march in her home town in Idaho. She held a placard about marching for human rights and a smaller notice that simply said “One Small Voice”.

This was the title of the song that she had written years earlier and never recorded. The words are self-explanatory.

One Small Voice
Words and Music by Carole King

The Emperor’s got no clothes on
No clothes? That can’t be; he’s the Emperor
Take that child away
Don’t let the people hear the words he has to say

One small voice
Speaking out in honesty
Silenced, but not for long
One small voice speaking with the values
we were taught as children

So you walk away and say, Isn’t he divine?
Don’t those clothes look fine on the Emperor?
And as you take your leave
You wonder why you’re feeling so ill-at-ease
Don’t you know?

Lies take your soul
You can’t hide from yourself
Lies take their toll on you
And everyone else

One small voice speaking out in honesty
Silenced, but not for long
One small voice speaking with the values
we were taught as children
Tell the truth
You can change the world
But you’d better be strong

The Emperor’s got no clothes on, no clothes
He doesn’t want to know what goes on,
though everyone knows
One small voice: The Emperor’s got no clothes on
One small voice: The Emperor’s got no clothes on

One small voice can change the world
But you’d better be strong

She later wrote a letter to the Huffington Post and stated:

I wrote the words and music for the song “One Small Voice” in 1982.  More than two decades later I re-recorded it because I wanted a version without synthesizers. I had forgotten about the second recording until January 20, 2017.

On January 21, 2017 men, women, and children of all ages with a variety of political views marched peacefully in “Women’s Marches” on seven continents around the world. I marched in a snowstorm in Stanley, Idaho (pop. 63) with 29 other people comprising half the town. I carried a handmade sign that said “One Small Voice” because I’ve never stopped believing that one small voice plus millions of other small voices is exactly how we change the world.

I’m making the updated recording of “One Small Voice” available to everyone because it will take the strength and persistence of many small voices to overcome the lies of the loudest voice with our message of truth, dignity, and decency.

I loved the idea behind the song and believe that the “small voice” of reason is maybe drowned at the moment by the cacophony of hatred, bigotry and despair but maybe it can become louder and louder in the future. It is all any of us can hope for.

The joy of competing

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The lady in this picture is Dawn Nisbet from Oldham who had just competed in the Oldham Parks 5K run. She was last and came in ten minutes from the runner in front of her. The man behind her is a park-keeper who was tidying up so as to prepare the park for public use after the race.

The sheer joy on Dawn’s face at having finished the race became something of a minor internet sensation. I first heard about her endeavours on Radio 5’s late night show with Phil Williams.

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The thing that came out of the conversation was the sheer joy that she has in running. She said that she was always on the large size and suffered from bullying and jibes about her size. Her size created a downward spiral of feeling that she was too embarrassed to go to a gym or run in public. The lack of exercise led to a “couch potato” existence that meant she went upwards and upwards in weight.

She married and had two children and a couple of years ago she decided that she wanted to stay healthy and have as long a life as possible for them. She took the first tentative steps to jogging a few yards.

For those of us who have trodden the same path and that includes me, the first few steps are the most difficult. I got into running after watching my youngest brother compete in the London Marathon. I stood by a wall in Docklands and watched thousands of people run by me of all ages, sizes and state of fitness and I felt ashamed that I never really did any form of regular exercise.

Within a few days I was attempting to jog around the block in the village where I lived at that time. It felt like a marathon! I felt like I was going to collapse and I got home panting and realising that I had made a start but had a long long way to go.

Over the next few years I competed in 5K, 10K, half-marathons (including the Great North Run) and eventually in 1991 and 1992 I competed in two successive London Marathons.

I have to say that it was not easy by any means but is probably the events that I am most proud of in my lifetime.

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As you can see from the picture above my second marathon was run in 4 hours 26 minutes and 36 seconds. I was not first and I was not last. I collected money for charities in both races. I was exhausted at the end. I could hardly walk up the stairs to get to a train to collect my clothing. But it was so so worth it.

In the process of running I stumbled many times, grazed my leg, had to have a tetanus injection, hurt my arm, leg and shoulder. I ran in pouring rain and people stared at me as if I were completely mad! (it helps).

The highs though of finishing and achieving your aim of competing makes it all worthwhile. I also lost weight and became the fittest I have been at any time in my life.

I applaud anyone like Dawn who is willing to take the first difficult steps. I understood only too well the sheer joy that can be seen in her photo at the end of the Oldham 10K and look forward to seeing her photo when she completes her London or New York Marathon.