Hobbies might include anything from gardening to playing games, arts and crafts, volunteering, reading or being part of a club, according to the study, which spanned numerous countries and included more than 93,000 people ages 65 and older.
“Our study shows the potential of hobbies to protect older people from age-related decline in mental health and well-being. This potential is consistent across many countries and cultural settings,” said lead author Karen Mak, of University College London’s Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care.
Data came from people who had enrolled in five studies in the United States, Japan, China, England and 12 other European countries.
Researchers analyzed data spanning four to eight years, finding that having a hobby was linked to decreases in depressive symptoms and increases in happiness and life satisfaction.
Although this observational study couldn’t prove cause-and-effect, it nevertheless suggests there might be an association between hobbies and happiness, according to the study.
The results remained even after adjusting for other factors such as partnership status, employment and household income.
“Of the four outcomes, life satisfaction was most strongly linked to hobby engagement. Hobbies may contribute to life satisfaction in our later years through many mechanisms, including feeling in control of our minds and bodies, finding a purpose in life, and feeling competent in tackling daily issues,” Mak said in a university news release.
“Theoretical work suggests the relationship between hobbies and well-being may cut both ways — that people with better mental health may be more likely to take up a hobby, and persisting with a hobby may help us to retain improved life satisfaction,” she added.
The proportion of people who said they had a hobby varied considerably between countries, with just 51% of study participants in Spain reporting having a hobby. This was compared to a sweeping 96% in Denmark, 95.8% in Sweden and 94.4% in Switzerland.
China had the lowest level of people having hobbies, at 37.6%. However, researchers cautioned that study respondents in China were asked only about social hobbies, not hobbies in general.
More people reported having a hobby in countries with better life expectancy and national happiness levels. The link between well-being and having a hobby was also stronger in those countries.
The findings were published Sept. 11 in the journal Nature Medicine.
“Our research also supports policymakers in promoting access to hobbies among older people as a way to enhance their well-being and health,” Mak said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on being socially engaged in older age.
SOURCE: University College London, news release, Sept. 11, 2023
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