I think I’ve always loved to read. I remember a program on TV when I was about 5 or so, where I followed along with a workbook my mom ordered for me. The workbook had lines to write my responses to the questions the characters posed throughout the program. I loved it! I waited all week for the program to come on, then sat in a tiny chair smack-dab in front of the console TV, with a jumbo pencil in my hand, and the workbook on my knees!
There’s just nothing better to me than the smell of a book – old, new, it doesn’t matter. Flipping the pages, hearing the binding crack when you’re the first person to open it. Touching the pages of a really old book wondering who else held it – did they feel the same way I did when they opened it? It’s magical!
Now, we have so many ways to enjoy books! We can listen to them, read on our phones, and electronic devices, or choose a book from the public library or bookstore. I recently ordered my grandkids some books with CDs that read the words to them as they follow along. A tone alerts them to turn the pages. They’re really enjoying the interaction and what they consider independence. Not sure how many times I need to read a book about a lost clown fish, but they’re engaged!
Not only does reading open and expand the minds of our youth, it actually has beneficial properties for us age we age!
Reading can help reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s by helping to keep our minds exercised and stimulated. It’s similar to working puzzles or playing games. Our brains are muscles, and just like every other muscle in our bodies, our brains need training to stay in shape.
Reading is one form of training. When we read, we form connections between the characters and the roles they play within the text. We begin to predict outcomes of storylines. We may be learning about a new place we would like to visit, or something historical, a new technique for smoking meat … it could be anything, all while we’re being entertained!
It reduces stress by forcing us to focus on what we’re reading, rather than the outward influences of our daily lives. Just 30 minutes each day can reduce blood pressure, and lower heart rates. Studies have shown that reading increases concentration, helping us to complete tasks, remember processes, and maybe even where we left our keys!
Reading slows cognitive decline for older adults. A study conducted in 2020 at Cambridge University, over a 14 year time period, showed that people who read once or more each week were less likely to experience cognitive decline (losing items, having difficulty retaining new information, a drop in work performance, decreased mental sharpness, less ability to recall names, and more.)
Reading can increase one’s mental flexibility. This is the ability to stop and change gears as the situation warrants. It truly does get harder to “go with the flow,” as we age.
Reading can build social skills by introducing us to multiple perspectives, and points of view. It may even demonstrate alternate ways of handling delicate situations.
Improves our analytical thinking and decision-making skills. As I’ve gotten older, the fewer decisions I have to make, the better, but it’s good to know that the more I read, the better I’ll be at those decisions should I be forced to make them!
Reading helps us sleep. Studies show we fall asleep 20 minutes faster when we read, vs. when we’re looking at the screens on our phones, or the TV. I used to think we just read to our children at bedtime to create a routine that helped them settle in. Now that I’m older, I see that I sleep better when I click off the TV and pick up my book. Even if it’s just for a few minutes, the movement of my eyes across the page, the ambient lighting, the quiet room, together create the perfect theatre for sleep.
It expands our imagination. Imagination can create such a sense of peace, and also of great accomplishment and success. Reading can even alleviate boredom. Although many tell me they’re busier since they retired, some tell me they’re bored mindless. Escape with a book!
Lastly, and I probably should’ve led with this one, reading can actually extend our lives! A study conducted by Yale University showed that those who read just 3 ½ hours each week, lived 23 months longer than those who did not!
Whether we’re reading a news article, a book by our favorite author, or a story with our grandchildren, reading is chock-full of benefits. Visit a public library, pick up a magazine at the grocery, find articles online, trade books with a friend … whatever works. Reading can make us happier, and it can extend our lives! Ernest Hemingway was right when he said, “There is no friend as loyal as a book.”