Read any good books?
Books over crossword puzzles. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
Tell me: Do these scenarios sound familiar?
You're late for an important meeting, but you can't find your car keys.
You know you have to do one more thing before you leave the office, but you can't remember what.
You run into an acquaintance you've known for years, but suddenly, you can't recall her name.
Forgetting things can be frustrating, anxiety-inducing, and ... oh, man, what was the third thing?
Fortunately, there's good news. There are simple habits, backed by science, that can help people improve and even rejuvenate their memories. Even better, some of these habits are quite enjoyable.
I've written recently about the surprising kinds of brain games like crossword puzzles that are linked to better memory in older adults. Now, a new study says that another enjoyable habit actually has a causal relationship with better memory—maybe even better than puzzles, as we'll see—although it's one that fewer and fewer Americans seem to practice.
In short, just as your English teacher probably advised you back in middle school or high school, the habit is to read for pleasure. The results were "incontrovertible," the researchers said in a press release touting their work in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Psychology.
Here's the study. Researchers from the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign teamed up with a local library to identify a series of books that had the potential to really suck readers in, as they put it. Then, they recruited 76 older adults, and divided them into two groups.
One group was loaned iPads that had the recommended books preloaded onto them.
The other group was given iPads with preloaded games including word puzzles.
The book/iPad group was then asked to read for five days a week, 90 minutes at a time, for eight weeks. Each group's members took cognitive skills assessments at both the beginning and end of the eight-week period. Results, according to the researchers' statement:
The results were incontrovertible: in comparison to the puzzle group, the group that read books for eight weeks showed significant improvements to working memory and episodic memory. In other words, the study demonstrated that regular, engaged reading strengthened older adults' memory skills.
Great news, I would think. The only problem is that fewer and fewer Americans actually read for pleasure. (Also: I wish I could find the list of books they used for this study; no such luck so far.)
For example, in 2004, about 28 percent of Americans over age 15 reported that they read for pleasure on any given day; by 2017, that number had dropped to 19 percent.
And while that seems a bit counterintuitive—people likely feel as if they spend a lot more time reading now than they did years ago—the explanation is that they're reading shorter, less-connected articles and other pieces of information on their phones, which might be enjoyable, but not the same thing as "reading for pleasure" for any sustained length of time.
(Case in point: You're reading this newsletter, and quite likely doing so on your phone. But you'll be done in a minute.)
Look, in my work I've realized that the big fears most people share are threefold: that they won't be professionally successful, that they won't do an effective and honorable job of contributing to their families, and that they'll face health challenges and old age—including memory loss.
So, if finding time to read for pleasure and allowing yourself to get really sucked into a book is a way to improve it, it sounds to me like a habit worth adopting. And your middle school English teacher would be proud.
7 other things worth knowing today
The world’s largest aircraft fleet was grounded for hours by a cascading outage in a government system that delayed or cancelled thousands of flights across the U.S. on Wednesday. The White House initially said that there was no evidence of a cyberattack behind the outage that ruined travel plans for millions of passengers. President Joe Biden said Wednesday morning that he’s directed the Department of Transportation to investigate. (AP)
Elon Musk’s Tesla hype machine breaks down: Last year, Musk was in the news like never before, albeit for problematic reasons: his offer to buy Twitter, his attempt to back out, and his sowing of chaos once he finally did take over. (Bloomberg)
New danger for laid-off workers: Sophisticated fake-job scams that involve recruiters, sham websites, interviews, and an on-boarding process that's all part of a weeks-long process to try to get credit card numbers and other personal information out of trusting and vulnerable workers. (WSJ, LinkedIn)
An Amtrak train traveling from the D.C. area to Florida was stuck for hours in rural South Carolina with limited food supplies after its route was changed because of the derailment of a CSX freight train. The 17-hour trip turned into a 37-hour nightmare for passengers on the Auto Train 53. At one point, passengers began calling police out of fear they were being held hostage. (WashPost, Guardian)
The Church of England is pledging £100m to "address past wrongs" and provide a "better and fairer future for all, particularly for communities affected by historic slavery," after its investment fund was found to have historic links to slavery. A report last year found the Church had invested large amounts of money in a company that transported slaves, for 30 years during the 1700s. (BBC)
Prince Harry's memoir publisher claims he has now written the fastest-selling non-fiction book of all time. The autobiography, "Spare," recorded sales figures of 400,000 copies so far across hardback, ebook and audio formats on its first day of publication: "As far as we know, the only books to have sold more in their first day are those starring the other Harry [Potter]." (Mirror)
I included a link yesterday about Belgium looking for a national team soccer coach with an open job application. A reader, Honor Pollok, pointed out that while Belgium cast a crazy-wide net for a coach, they assumed in the ad that their ultimate choice would be a man. So, we looked up the highest levels of men's soccer that have been coached by women. Result: A handful of women have managed men's teams in the 2nd and 3rd divisions of the French and Italian leagues, and we also had a milestone in the U.S. last year: When NYU played Chicago in a Division III match last October, it was the first men's NCAA college soccer game in which both teams were coached by women. (NYT)