READING FOR EVERYONE

The tremendous benefits of reading starts with following your curiosity compass at the library.

BY HAILEY MINTON

Language is the basis for how we make sense of the world. When my daughter was born, it was interesting to think she was starting as a blank slate. My mother-in-law never enrolled any of her six children in preschool, instead she read to them regularly, and they did well in school. When I visit my daughter’s pediatrician, she always counsels me: “read to her.” Dr. Dana L. Suskind is the director of UChicago Medicine’s Pediatric Hearing Loss and Cochlear Implant program. As she has brought sound into children’s lives through cochlear implants, she has found the ability to hear is a wasted gift without a language-rich environment. Social scientists Betty Hart and Todd Risley found, “The words a child heard, both the quantity and the quality, from birth through three years of age could be linked to the predictable stark disparities in ultimate educational achievement.”

I love our local libraries, and and in-person story time is in full swing along with the Weber County Summer Reading program. Books broaden the horizon of language, and libraries make it accessible to all, regardless of any dividing socioeconomic factors. Libraries really do change lives.

As I have understood the weight behind the importance of reading to children, it got me thinking: what about adults? The fact is, babies’ brains develop at warp speed compared to adults; hence, the universal emphasis to read to children. Their brains are like sponges, and studies have shown children drastically benefit from being exposed to more parent talk, whether that be reading or talking about what you’re doing. It doesn’t matter how exciting or mundane it is. But is there a link between reading regularly as an adult and his or her cognitive abilities and quality of life? Turns out there is!

Healthline.com cites a study where researchers used functional MRI scans to measure how reading a novel affects the brain. Over nine days, participants read Pompeii and as tension built in the story, more and more areas of the brain lit up with activity. Reading gives your brain mental stimulation which has shown to slow the progress of dementia and Alzheimer’s. A good book can also serve as a way to pull your mind out of a negative feedback loop if you’re feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or sad. Also your ability to concentrate can improve as you read. Longer pieces of text have a way of absorbing us and making it less likely we will get distracted. Reading can help readers grow in empathy as books let people see the world from someone else’s eyes. It also improves general knowledge, reduces stress, aids in sleep readiness, and increases vocabulary. Personally, I love discussing the ideas in books with my family.

I thought that reading would be high up on the list of ways to stay mentally engaged as we grow old, but it turns out I was wrong. Daniel J. Levitin’s book, Successful Aging, dives into neuroscience and gives suggestions for those entering the golden years of their life: “Aging is an irreversible and inescapable process. But the effects of aging are, in some cases, reversible and, if not completely escapable, at least subject to delay. There are many factors under our control – diet, gut microbiota, social networks, sleep, regular visits to the doctor. But the single most important correlation of vibrant mental and physical health is physical activity.” I was wrong in my assumption, but it was through the help of a book checked out at the library I found these answers! There is a lot of knowledge out there, and it’s fun to go to the library and follow your curiosity compass. It’s amazing what you can find! Happy reading!

Get moving!

Why physical activity is good for your brain: Levitin explains our brains don’t do well when they’re not challenged. “Every minute you walk on an unpaved trail, whether in a park or in the wilderness, requires you to make hundreds of micro adjustments to foot pressure, angle, and pace. These adjustments stimulate the neural circuitry of your brain in the precise way that it evolved to be used.” Many studies show that memory is enhanced by physical activity.

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