Why having a hobby is good for you

Susannah Hickling 12 January 2022

Making time for leisure activities can have a truly positive effect on your physical and mental wellbeing

Why do we need hobbies? A 2015 US study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that people were more positive, less bored, less stressed and had a lower heart rate when engaged in a leisure activity.

Numerous other studies have shown that hobbies reduce stress, and boost mood, wellbeing, life satisfaction and even heart health. Scientists think they might help stave off dementia too. 

Joining a class or a team gives you a chance to meet other people. Meanwhile, learning something new or improving a skill gives you a sense of achievement. Hobbies let you switch off, forget your worries, overcome boredom—and, yes, have fun.

How do you choose the right hobby? Start with what you enjoyed in the past. Did you once play football? Take it up again or start something else which satisfies your competitive spirit or the fun you derive from being part of a team, such as a local community group. Experts recommend a healthy mix of hobbies that give you physical, social and cognitive benefits.

Try something and if you find it isn’t for you, stop and take up something else.

Which leisure activities are good for physical health? It’s clear that exercise is going to be good for you physically. Even regular brisk walking can bring benefits for fitness, while dancing is a great cardio workout, and it’s sociable too. 

A review of 94 studies found that dancing three times a week improved balance in older people. And a Swedish study found both gardening and DIY could reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke by up to 30 per cent among over-sixties.

Which hobbies help you unwind? Getting out in nature is great for de-stressing, whether you’re hiking or doing something less active. Birdwatching, for example, aids mindfulness by requiring you to be at one with your surroundings and focused on the moment.

Yoga can lift mood and ease depression, as well as improve strength and cardio health. Music, whether that’s playing the piano or listening to your favourite band, can also relieve depression and anxiety. A 2016 US study found that creating art reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

"And a Swedish study found both gardening and DIY could reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke by up to 30 per cent among over-sixties"

Which pastimes keep your mind active? Learning a language or an instrument and reading are associated with a lower risk of dementia, along with board games, which are perhaps more sociable than screeching on a violin!

Older choir singers have better verbal flexibility, indicating better cognitive flexibility, than people of a similar age who don’t sing in a choir, according to a recent Finnish study. 

Physical activities can boost cognition too. One study of 2,805 people aged 60 or above in Australia found that gardening reduced the risk of dementia by 36 per cent. Dancing is also good for your brain, research has found. 

Read more: 5 Best low-impact movement practices

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