The health benefits of doing what you love
Who doesn’t love a good hobby? They offer a break from the daily grind. Opportunities to get together with friends. Light at the end of the work shift.
But did you know hobbies also have physical and mental health benefits? Dancing or gardening, running or baking — it doesn’t matter whether your chosen pastime is intense or mellow. Making time to do what you love can help you ease your stress, lift your mood, and expand your social circle. It can help you manage chronic pain. It may even improve your heart health and add quality years to your life.
So get ready to listen to your muse. Below are 4 good reasons to pursue your passions — and a few tips on how to cultivate new interests.
1. Give stress the boot — or the brush-off
Feeling more stressed lately? You’ve got company. In 2018, the majority of Americans (55%) said they experienced stress during a lot of the day. That’s the fourth-highest percentage reported worldwide.1
That’s a lot of negative emotion to process. Need to decompress? Release the tension with your favorite physical activity — maybe it’s kickboxing, rollerblading, or karaoke. Looking for something less intense? Consider a calming, rhythmic activity like painting, knitting, or gardening.
Whatever your preference, research shows that when you engage in interests you enjoy, you’re more likely to have lower stress levels, a lower heart rate, and a better mood. You’re also more likely to engage in the world around you.2 That means less boredom — and less time to fixate on the stressors that cramped your style in the first place.
2. Get moving, feel your health improving
Do you head to the dance floor when you have free time? Are long bike rides your thing? Or maybe you’ve joined a tennis league to keep active. If your passions include physical activity, you’re doing your body and your brain a favor.
For starters, it can help reduce your risk of heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. Research suggests if you get in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week, you’re cutting your overall risk of early death by 31%. Even low-intensity physical activity for less than an hour each week could trim your risk by 18%.3
Physical activity also leads to better mental health. A large-scale study of more than 1.2 million Americans found that people who exercised reported 43% fewer days of poor mental health in the past month than those who didn’t exercise.4 And if you head to the great outdoors for your activity, you don’t have to overexert yourself. New research finds that simply spending 2 hours a week in nature can positively affect your health and well-being.5 Maybe it’s time to start thinking about forest bathing.
Want to ease into a hobby that gets you moving?
- Sign up for a local kickball league
- Strike some starter yoga poses
- Swim a lap in your community pool
- Go for a walk around your neighborhood
- Join a walking, running, or biking group
3. Challenge your mind, boost your brain
Think about your biggest interests. Do you love visiting art museums? See if you enjoy drawing, photography, or calligraphy. Enjoy the theater? Audition for a community play. Constantly listening to music? Compose your own song.
Thanks to the creativity and focus that come with activities like these, the arts have long been linked to benefits like reducing stress and enhancing confidence. A recent study found that people who engage in the arts for about 8.5 hours a month report significantly better mental well-being compared with other types of engagement.6
You don’t have to limit your creativity to the more traditional arts, either. Are you a maker by nature? Maybe quilting, woodworking, or homebrewing is up your alley. Interested in learning something new? Check out classes offered at your local community college, library, or community center. You could:
- Learn a new language
- Write your first short story
- Design a website
- Cook up a culinary masterpiece
- Create a work of art in the ceramics studio
- Find your voice in public speaking
4. Turn your passion projects into team time
Feeling lonely is common, but too much of it might harm your health more than you know. Loneliness can lead to unhealthy behaviors that cause high blood pressure, obesity, and elevated cholesterol levels — increasing your odds of early death by 26%.7 One study found that a long-term lack of social connections carries health risks equal to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.8 And that’s just physical health. Spending too much time apart from others can also put your brain at increased risk for depression, cognitive decline, and even dementia.9
The good news: Positive relationships can make us happier and healthier. People with strong social relationships can even decrease their odds of early death by as much as 50%.10 Even better news: Your hobbies can help you build those relationships.
Music your muse? Find other musicians to play with. Go to an open jam session in town. Or start your own band. Either way, you’ll get to learn from others, share your skills, and enjoy some well-tuned camaraderie.
Care about a cause? Volunteer with a like-minded nonprofit. You could pitch in at an animal shelter, lead a workshop at a senior center, or help build housing for those experiencing homelessness. Working toward a common goal can give you a heightened sense of purpose and a greater sense of community.
Need a laugh? Join a comedy improv group in town. You’ll gain some public speaking skills and build your confidence. And you’ll likely feel better, too. The saying “laughter is the best medicine” might be an exaggeration, but it’s got some truth to it. Laughter is proven to help when you’re depressed, anxious, or stressed.11
And if you sometimes prefer time with furry friends over people friends, that’s OK. Pets can help improve your health, too.
Bottom line: Start enjoying all the health-related benefits that come with doing what you love. Pursue your passions. Find your people. (Or your pets.)
And if you want more tips on how to keep stress at bay, check out some of our favorite stress-reducing activities.
1“Americans’ Stress, Worry and Anger Intensified in 2018,” Gallup, April 25, 2019.
2Matthew J. Zawadzki et al., “Real-Time Associations Between Engaging in Leisure and Daily Health and Well-Being,” Annals of Behavioral Medicine, August 2015.
3Min Zhao et al., “Beneficial Associations of Low and Large Doses of Leisure Time Physical Activity With All-Cause, Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer Mortality: A National Cohort Study of 88,140 U.S. Adults,” British Journal of Sports Medicine, March 19, 2019.
4Sammi R. Chekroud et al., “Association Between Physical Exercise and Mental Health in 1.2 Million Individuals in the USA Between 2011 and 2015: A Cross-Sectional Study,” The Lancet, August 8, 2018.
5Mathew P. White et al., “Spending at Least 120 Minutes A Week in Nature is Associated With Good Health and Wellbeing,” Scientific Reports, June 13, 2019.
6Christina Davies et al., “The Art of Being Mentally Healthy: A Study to Quantify the Relationship Between Recreational Arts Engagement and Mental Well-being in the General Population,” BMC Public Health, January 5, 2016.
7Julianne Holt-Lunstad et al., “Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review,” Perspectives on Psychological Science, March 2015.
8Julianne Holt-Lunstad, “The Potential Public Health Relevance of Social Isolation and Loneliness: Prevalence, Epidemiology, and Risk Factors,” Public Policy & Aging Report, January 2, 2018.
9See note 8.
10Ning Xia and Huige Li, “Loneliness, Social Isolation, and Cardiovascular Health,” Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, March 20, 2018.