If Reading is to the Mind what Exercise is to the Body . . .

Posted on December 3, 2014 by


Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body! 

by Brother Mxolisi T. / Ozo-Sowande

Those words (minus the exclamation point) were posted in front of the elementary school in our rural community at the beginning of the school year. Also included was a challenge to students to get busy reading 40 books.

Implicitly, in my way of thinking, this includes a major challenge to parents and community (the Village) to step up to the plate and “do all you can, in every way you can” to help our children abandon the couch-potato, sedentary/stationary way life that has television, video games, and other mind-and-body-destructive activities dominating their “leisure” hours, to encourage, inspire and facilitate reading excellence in the children and youth, as well as activities (exercises) that provide for the ultimate in their physical well-being.

*(My emphasis is on our Village, because the public schools systems of the USA continue to demonstrate and document their inability and/or unwillingness to eradicate the decay that leaves far too many of our children lagging too far behind when it comes to reading proficiency – a crucial foundation for academic and intellectual excellence, and character development.)

Decay takes over when one lets the mind and body fall into the practice of idleness, failing to pursue the mental and physical excellence of which they are capable. Decay!

In the absence of signals to grow and be healthy – signals that come through one’s own dedication and diligence — the body and brain have no choice but to begin falling into the destructive depths and dimensions of decay.

Exercise Holds Physical Decay at Bay

Exercise is the thing that triggers the body’s decay overriding dynamics. At rest (in the couch-potato mode of existence), only 20 percent of blood flows through the 660 muscles of one’s body where the chemicals for the overriding of decay are stored. But exercise can increase that flow to a surge of as much as 80 percent, taking those Growth, Renewal and Repair (GRR) ingredients to every nook and cranny of your body – fingers, toes, bones, and every tiny part of your magnificent brain! And this surge lasts for hours after exercise, transporting the GRR that are vital for physical and mental well-being.

ExerciseParents and elders, community and village, we need to be adamant and diligent to be living models and partners with our children for exercise every day! At least enough to break out in a warm sweat. A brisk walk, time on a treadmill or elliptical, push-ups, moderate weight lifting; get your aerobics and pulse rates above their decay dimensions for 30-45 minutes every day – every day! — giving your body and brain the sustained signals they need for GRR.

Bottom line: Exercise is of crucial importance for our bodies, including our brains! — (especially the hippocampus which plays a role in learning, short & long term memory, and possibly in the control of emotions).

*(These exercise insights come from the book, Younger Next Year, by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, M.D. And while the book is primarily aimed at mature adults, its information seems pertinent for all ages. * * * In addition to exercise, these authors see “emotional commitment, reasonable nutrition and real engagement with living” as vital elements for overriding the decay code. If that is the case, it is abundantly clear to this writer that parent-community-village, not USA schools, must take the lead in instilling this complete orientation with our children.) 

So now the question is this: What does reading do for the mind that is similar to what exercise does for the body?

What is mind?

It is widely agreed that mind is those dimensions of a person that involve or enable consciousness, perception, thinking, judgment and memory. Mind includes the quality of recognizing one’s own perspectives, experiences, feelings, beliefs, desires and power (or powerlessness), and one’s determination to take positions on the affairs of life, responding to those affairs through either unconscious, involuntary behavior, or purposeful, goal directed activity.

In short, mind is thought; the private conversation carried on inside one’s head — a conversation to which no one but the person has access, except by that which the person is able to communicate through word and/or action. Indeed, the mind – the power of effective conversation within one’s self, and the ability to effectively communicate the end results of that process though word and/or action — is a terrible thing to waste!

It might be helpful to think of mind as the muscle in which mental GRR grows; the muscle from which this GRR flows to regulate one’s “emotional commitment . . . and real engagement with living;” to initiate or respond to the events of life, through either unconscious, involuntary behavior, or purposeful, goal directed activity.

What’s Reading Got to do With It?

Reading serves to provide for these mental GRR developments:

  • Growth — broadening of one’s perceptions regarding the realities and potentials within the universe of life;
  • Renewal – reassurance and reinforcement regarding the variety of attitudes, words or actions that one might use under the various circumstances that life can bring;
  • Repair – revamping or transformations for the development of new or modified attitudes, words or actions (a change of mind) arising from the influences brought to one through reading.

Black homeschooling 1 The first and most important “reading” that serves to cultivate and nurture the mind strength of our children includes the words, attitudes, actions, and the variety of interactions they have with their parents and other members of the family network, from infancy on up. The seeing of young eyes, the hearing of young ears, and the vibrational communications that even the youngest of children perceive — these lay the foundation for what will be their earliest sense of self and self-worth, control of emotions, and engagement with the affairs of life. We must not allow them to fall onto the path to Decay!

In the African world-view, it is widely understood that a new life – an infant – is not a complete being until he or she has been thoroughly initiated into the values and principles of the family-community-village to whom the Creator has entrusted them. Our loss of this perspective is reflected in the words of Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund: “Parents have become so convinced educators know what is best for children that they forget that they themselves are really the experts.” Parents-family-community-village! — we need a Repair, a revamping (a change of mind), to become diligently thoughtful, courageous, purposeful and loving about this responsibility at all times!!

We must always be keenly aware that the attitude of a young child’s mind toward reading printed materialsBlack homeschooling 2 is shaped in their earliest years, before they ever set foot in Head Start, Pre-school or Kindergarten. By the time they are old enough for any of those programs, they should be well-versed in the letters of the alphabet, the sounds each letter make, and how those come together to form words (simple words: mom, dad, nana, papa, yes, no, ok/okay, etc.). If we must send our children into those programs, we must not send them in unprepared, but with their minds ready to handle the mental GRR challenges that we know (that we know we know) they are going to face in reading classes, and all others. (See the Visions & Victories article at the following link for much more on this: https://hcvoice.wordpress.com/2012/08/26/education-does-the-achievement-gap-rest-in-our-laps-does-it-begin-in-our-homes/)

When it comes to the reading materials with which we engage our children in our homes, we need to be diligent to see that their content and style are in harmony with the values and principles, attitudes, words and actions by which we want to strengthen their minds. The odds are extremely small that the reading materials they encounter in “school” will meet this standard. We must be the experts! (Kujichagulia!)

(Having said that, let me offer that the list of suggested books for African American children and youth, Pre-k thru High School, put together by a Florida Department of Education committee, might be worthy of your expert examination. Visit it at this link: http://www.justreadflorida.com/BHM.asp)

Let’s allow our minds to be exercised by the words of some of our worthy Ancestors and noteworthy contemporary Sisters and Brothers, as we commit to redoubling our diligence for the task before us:

  •  “I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me. I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life. As I see it today, the ability to read awoke in me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive.”  –Malcolm X
  • “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”   ―Frederick Douglass 
  • “The whole world opened to me when I learned to read.”  –Mary McLeod Bethune 
  • “When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.” ―Maya Angelou
  • Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”   –Maya Angelou
  • “I’m not comfortable being preachy, but more people need to start spending as much time in the library as they do on the basketball court.”   –Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 
  • “The impulse to dream was slowly beaten out of me by experience. Now it surged up again and I hungered for books, new ways of looking and seeing.”   –Richard Wright
  • “Books were my pass to personal freedom. I learned to read at age three, and soon discovered there was a whole world to conquer that went beyond our farm in Mississippi.”   –Oprah Winfrey 
  • “Use every spare minute you have in reading. If you are going on a journey that would take you an hour carry something with you to read for that hour until you have reached the place. If you are sitting down waiting for somebody, have something in your pocket to read until the person comes. Don’t waste time.” –Marcus Mosiah Garvey
  • You should read at least four hours a day. The best time to read is in the evening after you have retired from your work and after you have rested and before sleeping hours. But do so before morning, so that during your sleeping hours what you have read may become subconscious, that is to say, planted in your memory. Never go to bed without doing some reading.”  –Marcus Mosiah Garvey
  • “Without education, you are not going anywhere in this world.”   –Malcolm X

If reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body, we’ve got to step up our game. Exercise some Ujima (Collective work & responsibility)! We must be the parents-family-community-village that allows no child to be left behind when it comes to the development of their reading powers, toward the development of minds having the power to deal effectively with all matters under the sun!