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Four Reasons Why Hobbies Support Lifelong Wellness and Mental Health

    • June 18, 2024
    • Wellness
    • 5 minute read
  • Beth Gonnerman

Maybe you were once a talented quilter, or you couldn’t wait for your weekly bridge night. Or perhaps you’ve always wanted to learn how to kayak or paint. But between busy work schedules, family obligations or health issues, life got in the way of your once beloved hobbies — and dreams of new ones.

The good news is that empty nests and retirement mean more time to enjoy creative, physical or social interests. And the better news is that hobbies aren’t just a fun way to pass the time; they matter for lifelong wellness and mental health.

Here are four reasons why hobbies are good for you.

1. Hobbies support brain health.

Cognitive decline, which includes sudden or worsening memory loss or confusion, is a fact of life. Two out of three Americans will experience some level of impairment in their thinking abilities around the age of 70. Hobbies can slow that progression and boost brain health.

By engaging in a wide range of daily activities, you’ll get even more of a brain boost, research says. For example, start the morning by going on a walk with friends, then move on to an afternoon painting class and

finish with an evening spent putting together a jigsaw puzzle. This provides a daily workout for the hippocampus, the part of the brain that plays an important role in creating and remembering memories.

2. Hobbies keep us physically healthy.

Many hobbies, of course, keep us strong and agile. And making time for golf, pickle ball or swimming leads to all kinds of benefits beyond lowering the risk of weight gain, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Even moderate physical activities like walking, strength training or yoga can:

  • improve balance and prevent falls
  • minimize the pain of arthritis
  • enhance the immune system to prevent infections from getting in your lungs

3. Hobbies reduce loneliness.

In 2023, the U.S. Surgeon General called loneliness and isolation an epidemic, and those ages 55 and up have the highest rates of social isolation. Participating in hobbies — whether walking with a neighborhood group or taking part in book clubs, fitness classes or card games — ensures you’re not just getting out and about, but also engaging with other people.

And hobbies help reduce loneliness in another way too, even when you don’t always have a strong social network available. You just need to reach a “state of flow,” when you're so focused on an activity that you don’t realize how much time has passed. Researchers have found that when people achieve that state, they can feel less alone.

4. Hobbies boost mental health.

Finally, add up all the benefits of hobbies for older adults — slower cognitive decline, healthier bodies and reduced loneliness — and it’s no surprise that a fourth benefit is the mental health perks of getting involved in favorite pastimes. When people are actively engaged in hobbies they enjoy, they have fewer depressive symptoms, higher levels of self-reported health and improved life satisfaction, research shows.

How to launch a hobby

If you took a break from a longtime hobby or are ready to start a new one, it might take a little time to get fully up to speed. Take it slow.

Be consistent and give yourself some grace. Don’t expect to paint a prize-winning still life after 25 years away from the canvas or swim 10 laps after a lifetime out of the pool. Just set a goal to make steady progress as you introduce or reintroduce yourself to activities.

And don’t go at it alone, meet up with others who love the same thing. Local in-person groups and online forums can provide the encouragement you need to keep going as you’re just starting out.

Of course, before you get back into an old hobby or try something new, especially physical activities, check in with your doctor. Sometimes, previous hobbies — like running or biking — might need to be replaced with new ones — like walking or yoga — for health reasons. A friendly, caring ArchWell Health doctor can guide you.

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About the Author

Beth Gonnerman, Center Manager

Beth Gonnerman is a Center Manager for ArchWell Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska. Beth was born and raised in Nebraska and has worked in healthcare management advocating for seniors for years 30 years. Her experience includes community health and wellness, medical practice management and administration in the senior living industry. She understands the complexities value-based care and is passionate about helping seniors navigate their choices and understanding the importance of quality primary care.

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