Posted on Oct 10, 2023, 4 p.m.
According to a recent study led by UCL researchers published in the journal Nature Medicine, having a hobby is linked to fewer depressive symptoms and higher levels of happiness, as well as higher levels of self-reported health and life satisfaction among those aged 65+, and these findings hold true across 16 countries on three continents.
This study looked at data from 93,263 adults aged 65+ who were enrolled in 5 existing longitudinal studies in England, the United States, Japan, China, and 12 other European countries to see if the benefits of hobbies were consistent in different national settings. Participant data spanning 4-8 years was analyzed, adjusting for various factors such as partnership status, employment, and household income.
In this study, hobbies were defined as activities that people engage in during their leisure time for pleasure, ranging from volunteering to reading, being part of a club, gardening, painting, arts and crafts, or playing games.
According to the researchers, having a hobby was linked to subsequent decreases in depressive symptoms and increases in happiness and life satisfaction suggesting that there could be a causal effect. However, the observational nature of this study could not prove causality. The study also found that the benefits of having a hobby were relatively universal, with only small differences between the countries.
“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 Dr. Karen Mak (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care). “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.”
“Theoretical work suggests the relationship between hobbies and wellbeing 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,” said Mak. “Our research also supports policymakers in promoting access to hobbies among older people as a way to enhance their well-being and health.”
The proportion of people saying that they had a hobby varied between countries, with 96% of those in Denmark saying that they have a hobby, 95.8% of those in Sweden having hobbies, and 94.4% of those in Switzerland like hobbies, compared to 51% of those in Spain reporting that they have hobbies, and China having the lowest level of hobby engagement with 37.6% reporting that they have hobbies. But those in China were only asked about social hobbies, not hobbies in general. Additionally, more people reported having hobbies in countries with better life expectancies and national happiness levels, and the link between well-being and having a hobby was found to be stronger in those countries.
The five longitudinal studies were: the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), the Japan Gerontological Evaluation Study (JAGES), the US Health and Retirement Study (HRS), the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), and the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS). In ELSA, JAGES, and HRS, participants were asked about hobbies, and the word was not defined; in SHARE and CHARLS, participants were asked if they engaged in a specific list of hobbies.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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