Hobbies Keep You Healthier

By Dawn Williams, Senior News Associate Publisher

Hobbies are more than an indulgence or a pleasant pastime. Engaging in pleasurable activities that engage, inspire, and enliven you is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.

Psychology Today writer Jaime L. Kurtz, Ph.D, explained that spending an hour a day or even just a few hours a week on hobbies makes you more productive, resistant to stress, and psychologically healthier than those who  do not regularly engage in such activities.

Medical News Today offered suggestions on hobbies that bring specific physical and mental benefits. Dancing, says writer David Railton, is a fun, gentle form of exercise, with the added benefit of increased social interaction. But if you’re more comfortable dancing like no one is watching in the privacy of your own home, you still benefit from the physical activity. Dancing has also been shown to improve cognitive function, reduce the risk of dementia, and improve balance significantly enough to lower the risk of injury from falls.

The same article, as many others have, cited gardening as a hobby with loads of benefits beyond increased curb appeal for your home. The tasks involved in gardening – reaching, pulling, stretching, and lifting – increase strength, stamina, and flexibility, Railton wrote. As an outdoor activity, you reap the calming benefits of being in nature and reduce your risk of vitamin D deficiency, which increases as we age. Gardening also is a protective factor against the risk of dementia and cardiovascular disease, according to studies.

Hobbies are also conducive to achieving the state of flow, a concept studied and introduced by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of the best-selling book Flow: The Psychology of Happiness. Flow is a mental state in which we lose track of time and sense of self. The inner chatter stops; awareness of environmental distractions and even physical sensations like hunger or minor discomfort, is absent; time ceases to exist; focus is absolute. The activity feels engaging yet effortless – even though the skills you possess that allow you to perform the activity are not actually easy to acquire. In flow, we are filled with a sense of meaning.

Flow occurs when we are immersed in an activity that is enjoyable, intrinsically motivated, and challenging, but not so far beyond our abilities that frustration results. In addition to being pleasurable and meaningful, cultivating flow increases your productivity, boosts the immune system, reduces stress-causing hormones, and increases our sense of well-being. It heightens your abilities, alters the chemical composition in the brain in beneficial ways, and fills you with a sense of ease, purpose, and joy.

Consider adopting a new hobby if you haven’t already, or spending regularly scheduled time engaged in a hobby you’ve already embraced. It’s a vital part of the healthy senior lifestyle.