WE may take the ability to read for granted, yet 18 per cent of 15-year-olds in England and Scotland leave school without basic literacy skills.

This is a sad state of affairs, as being able to read has the greatest impact upon what an individual may achieve, much more than all other variables, including parental socioeconomic status.

Yet learning to read is far more than just a predictor of financial success. It could be as vital for our mental and physical wellbeing as diet, exercise, not smoking and all the established principles that promote a good life.

Far from being a solitary pastime, it can build a loving bond between parent and child. The benefits of reading to your little one begins much before they develop their own literacy skills.

By hearing your voice, and seeing pictures on a page, they become able to concentrate and follow a story, and even after they begin to read for themselves, allowing them to read to you and vice versa will not only further their skills but also foster a love of books.

While it is easy to place a child in front of a television or similar device, a series of rapidly changing images does not encourage the brain to develop and they may just switch off, observing passively with limited benefit.

Not only is your child likely to be confident and achieve more as a keen reader, they will acquire lifelong skills. By entering the minds of characters, they are more likely to develop empathy for others and a better ability to read social cues.

The British psychologist Sir Roger Scruton observed “consolation from imaginary things is not an imaginary consolation”, and for many of us, plunging into a novel of our choosing is a way to temporarily escape the stresses of daily life.

Reading for just thirty minutes a day has shown to lower heart rate and blood pressure, and may be as effective for relaxation as physical exercise or yoga. In a recent survey by the University of Liverpool, 38 per cent of adults rated reading as their “ultimate stress remedy”.

While it may be tempting to check your phone last thing before bed, or use a tablet, the blue light emitted adversely affects the body’s natural hormone melatonin, vital for regulating sleep.

The written word has the opposite effect, and is a good way of winding down in the 30 minutes to an hour before this. It is not unusual to doze off naturally mid page.

We live in difficult times, and social isolation is perhaps now more poignant than ever. As a predictor of poor health, it is up there with smoking and obesity, yet 19 per cent of 18–64-year-olds admitted that reading made them feel more connected, even when this wasn’t in a reading group.

Similarly reading has been shown to help for mild to moderate symptoms of depression, and the NHS currently recommends books on prescription, which include self help manuals as well as fictional novels.

Reading not only gives you give you pleasure; it may stave off one of the most dreaded illnesses, dementia.

As a way of maintaining our cognitive abilities it is as beneficial as cross words and board games at stimulating the mind. In a small series of patients using functional MRI (fMRI) the development of new neural pathways occurred in as little as a few weeks of starting reading.

Retirement is a time of change and sometimes reduced interactions but a study of 3,600 individuals older than 65, over a twelve-year period, showed that those who continued to read regularly lived up to two years longer than their non-reading counterparts.

While it is a bold statement to suggest that reading on its own prevents dementia and promotes longevity, it may be that the positive feelings that a person generates from this activity allows them to approach other aspects of their life in a more positive way.

Finally reading does not have to be expensive.

Though the latest hardback copies can retail for fifteen pounds or more, previously enjoyed novels and books can be acquired for as little as fifty pence in your local charity shop, and libraries, an often-under-utilised commodity in today’s online world, are still full of the latest titles.

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