All work and no play? Maybe it’s time to pick up a hobby.
We know, we know – you’ve heard it before. But there’s some legitimate research showing that leisurely activity can benefit your physical, mental, and cognitive health. And with the cooler months just around the corner, now is a good time to find out how you can spend that extra time indoors.
“Usually we think of hobbies [being for] Kids or teens, but it’s important to continue to develop and cultivate hobbies as adults,” says Stephanie Gilbert, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Santa Monica, California. “Hobbies help us maintain emotional balance, increase our zest for life, and encourage play.”
Read on for the research behind health-boosting hobbies — and how to find an easy-to-master activity you’ll love.
Research about hobbies and your health
In case you’ve never heard of the “blue zones,” these are the five regions with the longest living people on the planet, according to a study published in the study American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. You are Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Icaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California. Researchers say that along with exercise, a balanced diet and low stress, time spent on leisure activities is a key factor in longevity.
That’s because engaging in our hobbies can have a number of positive effects, like improving mood and social interaction and redirecting attention away from negative thoughts, says Matthew Zawadzki, PhD, director of the Stress and Health Lab and an assistant professor at the University of California at Merced.
Each of these benefits reduces the negative effects of the daily stress and anxiety in our lives, he explains: “When we reduce the amount of stress we experience, we avoid the stress responses that increase our cortisol and heart levels, which are needed.” to cope with stress.” (Cortisol is often referred to as “the stress hormone,” and consistently high levels of cortisol can negatively impact your health by causing inflammation and high blood pressure, according to the Cleveland Clinic.)
dr Zawadzki points to a study he co-authored that was published in Journal of Behavioral Medicine in June 2019, which found that stressful events (like arguments or traffic) occur roughly every other day, leading participants to report feeling stressed about 40 to 70 percent of the time. “For our hobbies to be most effective in enhancing our well-being, they probably need to be a constant presence in our lives, like stress is,” he says.
However, consistent does not mean concrete and inflexible. Many people don’t have time to garden for several hours a day, for example, Zawadzki adds. If we try to make time for leisure each day, we could create more stress in our lives by avoiding responsibility or putting undue pressure on ourselves when we just don’t have the time, says Zawadzki.
Instead, think of your hobbies as a brief chance to reset your mental state, even if it’s just for 5 or 10 minutes at a time.
In a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology In June 2021, Zawadzki observed that small breaks for music, walks, or correspondence with others have positive effects on the stress of people caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s (a high-stress group). “The more types of these small tasks a person completed over a four-hour period, the more positive they felt,” he said — and those good feelings, in turn, prompted participants to do more positive things while providing care.
5 healthy hobbies you can learn in less than a week
Are you looking for a pastime but don’t know where to start? Don’t think about it.
Simply put, a hobby is any activity that you regularly engage in for pleasure, says Gilbert. “I would encourage people to think about what they used to enjoy, maybe as a kid or as an adult, and think about whether those hobbies might be something that interests you now. Write a list of possibilities and then try each one.”
If you need some inspiration, consider this that almost anyone can quickly adopt and squeeze into their schedule.
1. Reading can calm your mind
Books are great when it comes to relieving anxiety, says LaTasha Perkins, MD, a family doctor and assistant professor of medicine at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. “Taking the time to read can help you calm down by giving you something positive and calming to focus on and distracting you from any negative intrusive thoughts you may be experiencing,” she explains.
First, check out Bookshop.org, which connects you to local independent bookstores and offers book suggestions by category (like Books to Thrill and Chill or Rom-Com Pick-Me-Ups). LibraryFinder.org lets you search for libraries near you by zip code, many of which offer free e-books. You can find affordable used books at flea markets, used book stores, or charity shops.
And if the idea of sitting still is off-putting, consider a free trial on Amazon’s Audible platform, which offers audiobooks. You can listen to books while driving, washing dishes or walking your dog.
2. Meditation can reduce stress levels
Though it might be one of the slowest hobbies on this list, meditation certainly packs a heavy punch when it comes to health benefits. This practice can lower blood pressure, lower heart rate and lower cortisol levels, a review published in , suggested Comprehensive psychoneuroendocrinology in May 2021.
It can also give your brain a boost by improving memory, attention span and emotional regulation skills for dealing with everyday stressors, the review says.
To get started, all you need is a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down, according to meditation training nonprofit Mindworks. Set a timer for 5 to 10 minutes and try to give your full attention to your breathing. Watch your thoughts as if they were passing clouds. When you become drawn into a thought, gently bring your mind back to your breath – inhale, exhale, repeat. For guided meditations, Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer are some excellent free and inexpensive options.
Or try these simple ways to start a meditation practice.
3. Outdoor activities can boost feel-good chemicals
From hiking to gardening, outdoor hobbies can help you stay physically fit and emotionally balanced thanks to the release of feel-good chemicals called endorphins, says Dr. Perkins. “Being outside can have another benefit, as studies show that when you’re in sunlight, you release neuroreceptors, which can then trigger more positive thoughts,” she says.
For example, she points to research that suggests that exposure to sunlight on the skin boosts the production of mood-enhancing serotonin.
To get started, you can browse outdoor adventure groups on Meetup.com or Facebook groups near you. You can also ask the staff at your local outdoor store what kind of events are happening nearby, such as: B. hiking groups or camping trips.
Or check out this beginner’s guide to walking training.
4. Yoga can promote relaxation
Yoga is a great hobby for promoting healthy breathing and relaxation and reducing your body’s stress response, says Perkins. “Even small amounts have a positive effect on your well-being by making you look forward to something.”
One in December 2020 in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that yoga activates your parasympathetic nervous system (the opposite of your stressed-out fight-or-flight response).
Ready to start? Many yoga studios offer cheaper introductory offers for beginners. You should have all the equipment you need for each class, including a yoga mat (although they may charge an extra fee for the mat).
Be sure to bring a water bottle and wear comfortable clothing that’s easy to move in, advises the YMCA. As for the type of class to try, if a comprehensive vinyasa yoga class sounds intimidating, consider a low-key yin session. Yin yoga can be a good choice for beginners because the sessions are slow-paced and focused on experimentation and self-exploration, according to the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health.
If you prefer to practice at home, the Yoga with Adrienne YouTube channel and the Glo Yoga app are great resources for all levels and styles.
5. Art projects can reduce stress
When was the last time you really let off steam on a screen? childhood maybe?
Research shows that creating visual art is good for us. A study published in 2022 in the International Journal of Women in Technical Education and Employment found that painting improved alertness, increased self-esteem, and reduced stress.
Go ahead and try. You’ll need a pencil, a set of watercolor paints, some brushes, and a sketchbook. Or, if you want to step up, choose acrylic paints (opt for primary colors like red, blue, yellow, white, and black), a paper plate for mixing paints, and a canvas. (The staff at your local craft store should be able to help!)
You can then follow step-by-step painting tutorials on YouTube channels such as The Art Sherpa or Painting With Jane. Or find a paint and sip event near you through Painting With a Twist.
Even if you’re convinced you’re not the artistic type, you can visit an art museum – it can help you relax. A small study published in March 2018 in Art & Health, noted that looking at figurative art (i.e., art that depicts “real” rather than abstract things) can help lower blood pressure. Can’t come in person? Some art museums — including the Louvre in Paris, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and the Guggenheim in New York City — offer virtual tours.
How to find a hobby you love
If you don’t find anything on this list that resonates, don’t worry. The possibilities are endless. Maybe your idea of a good time is tossing hoops at CrossFit, solving a Sudoku puzzle, or cooking a roast that would make Gordon Ramsay proud. Go with whatever you’re drawn to.
To get you started, Gilbert recommends a technique from cognitive-behavioral therapy called behavioral activation. “You start small and build on progress, which leads to more lasting change,” she explains. “For example, if you want to start reading as a healthy hobby, start with 15 minutes a day, three times a week. Then evaluate after a week.”
Over time, you can try spending more time on it (if you want). “These types of healthy hobbies can improve your mood, reduce stress, increase happiness, and help you feel happier in life overall,” says Gilbert.