Why Hobbies Help You Live Longer and More Fully

Am I alone, or does it drive you nuts when you meet a new person and the first question they ask is, “what you do for a living?” or do you “work outside the home?”

DC is filled with really smart people doing some extremely impressive things to help our country and many people. I am a very proud Washington DC area resident. I love that we are surrounded by more Ph.Ds than any other American city.

Having spent 17 years in the political and public affairs area, I too got caught up in titles. Who people worked for (or with) and thought in the answer lie the key to a healthy conversation.

Boy, have I learned a lot since then…

Does your work define you? Or, do you prefer to spend your time talking about your real passion: your hobbies? Which one is better for your long term health?

What is a hobby? According to Miriam-Webster’s dictionary a hobby is a pursuit outside one’s regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation.

Hobbies are important not only for our own sanity in our adrenal-fatigued, super-charged town, but also for our health.

Last year, The Mayo Clinic conducted a study to determine what factors could positively affect cognitive function as the brain ages.

Researchers monitored 256 participants with an average age of 85 over a period of four years. In addition to creative hobbies, the study also considered the effects of social activities such as: concerts, book clubs, and events with friends, as well as, computer pastimes such as video games and online shopping.

They found that all of the monitored activities helped preserve cognitive function. Yet, artistic hobbies were far and away the most effective. Researchers found that people who engaged in painting, drawing, sculpture, or similar activities (especially if they began earlier in middle age)  were 73 percent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment than those who did not. The term “mild cognitive impairment” is a condition which thinking and memory problems develop, but not enough to disrupt daily life. The condition can however transform into more severe issues, such as dementia.

“There’s enough data here to suggest that being socially, mentally active — along with what we know from other research, physically active – probably does influence whether you’re going to get dementia down the line. And you can reduce your risk by being mentally and physically active,” said Dr. James Leverenz, a neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

Don’t worry: You don’t have to become the next Van Gogh; simply apply yourself to a creative project.

According to Elizabeth Anne Scott (a wellness coach and author with training in counseling, family therapy and health psychology), art can lend itself to stress relief for many reasons:

1) Distraction: Drawing and art can take your mind off of what’s stressing you, at least for a few minutes. And when you’re finished being engrossed in your sketches, or anther chosen media, you should have a clearer head with which to tackle your problems again.

2) Flow: Flow is a state of being completely engaged in something to the point of belonging in a near-meditative state. It carries many of the benefits of meditation, leaving you much less stressed when you’re done. You can experience “flow” when you’re doing creative activities or hobbies outside of your daily existence.

The effects of flow are similar to those of meditation, says occupational therapist Victoria Schindler. Science has shown meditation, among other things, reduces stress and fights inflammation.

Our bodies are in a constant state of stress because our brain can’t tell the difference between an upcoming meeting with the boss and an upcoming bear attack, Schindler says. The repetitive motions of knitting, drawing or gardening, for example, activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which quiets that “fight or flight” response.

Hobbies are good for our health. They take us away from our profession (AND the screen associated with it too!) and help us meet new people in new environments.  Both of which are good for the brain (as is learning a new skill). And a hobby can take away some of the negative thoughts your brain so skillfully has practiced day-in and day-out.

According to Cleveland Clinic Wellness, each person has an average of 60,000 thoughts a day! That’s one thought per second in every waking hour! Amazingly, 95 percent are the same thoughts repeated every day. On average, 80 percent of those habitual thoughts are negative.

So why not pick up a pad of paper, colored pencils or get those hands dirty in a new art or gardening project?  It just may more fun telling friends about your new project versus the stresses of work.

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