The Benefits of Reading

Did you know that reading can keep your mind active and engaged well into old age?

Several years ago when I was working as a newspaper reporter, I interviewed a woman who was a resident at a local nursing home. She was 100 years old. And she read at least one book per week. Mostly novels. She was bright, intelligent and fun to talk with.

“I love to read. It helps me keep up with what’s going on in the world,” she said. “A friend of mine brings me a new book every week. I look forward to her visits and I look forward to the books. We talk about the books we’ve read.”

Reading has other benefits, as well.

For one thing, reading a good story can help you forget some of the problems in your own life.

“I can’t get around much anymore,” said the 100-year-old woman who lived in the nursing home. “When I go somewhere, I have to go in a wheelchair now. But when I read, I can go anywhere, anytime I want. And no one has to help me!”

Reading also sets a good example for younger generations.

From my own experience as an English teacher, and as a substitute teacher in many elementary classrooms, I have observed that the best readers are those students who see their parents reading. And I’m not talking about only reading novels or nonfiction books. Newspapers and magazines are important too. It’s the reverse of the old saying, “Do as I say and not as I do.” You can talk about the virtues of reading until you are so hoarse you cannot speak another word, but if you do not read yourself, your actions will communicate more to your children and grandchildren about how much you value reading than anything you could ever say.

But why is reading so important? In this day and age, with television to give us news, and movies and videos to keep us entertained, who needs to read?

The answer to that is — everyone.

Developing good reading skills does not only mean that you can read a novel or a nonfiction book or a magazine or newspaper, it also means being able to read — and understand– a credit card contract or an insurance policy. Or the directions for putting together that new shelving unit you just bought. Or the instructions for how to install a new printer to use with your computer. Or the qualifications you need to apply for a job or to take out a loan to buy a house. Or that article you found on the Internet advising consumers about the best, most economical car to buy.

Possessing good reading skills also means you can read and understand a product label. Or the directions for taking medication. Or the warnings printed on a bottle of household cleaner.

In addition, developing good reading skills means that you can think for yourself. That you can read about the advantages and disadvantages of anything from breast feeding to homeschooling to taking a vacation to Ireland. And then you make up your own mind about what’s best for you and your family.

If the opportunity presents itself, I urge you to take the time to read to a child. Or take the time to let a child see you reading. Everyone will benefit. The child. You. Our society. The world as a whole.

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