How Hobbies Impact Your Head and Your Heart

New research explains how hobbies can help you feel happier and younger.

Posted Jun 20, 2017

Ridofranz/iStockphoto
Source: Ridofranz/iStockphoto

Many of us have no time for hobbies. Stretched for time, we feel lucky if we make it to the end of the day without complete exhaustion. With our packed schedules, the last thing we might think of is to add another task to the day, yet dabbling in hobbies may be just the activity we need to enhance our lives.

In Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind I explain how hobbies may help you become more successful. For example, physiology professor Robert Root-Bernstein studied forty male scientists who had been interviewed four times between 1958 and 1978.  He found that hobbies that involved visual thinking (imagining), learning from doing rather than just thinking, and art and music were particularly advantageous. When scientists engaged in hobbies of this kind, they were more successful. i.e. They had more citations. Key to their success however, was the fact that they saw their hobbies or dabbling activities as having some purpose. They were working on the same thing from a different angle.

Hobbies may also protect your brain. When aging researcher T.F. Hughes and her colleagues examined how hobbies impacted peoples’ lives, they found that engaging in hobbies for one or more hour every day may protect against dementia later in life. Another study found that having a hobby may also result in your being more functional when you are older and living longer too. And yet another study found that In patients who are surgically treated with breast cancer, having a hobby can be protective and help people live longer too.

By definition, hobbies bring people pleasure. And when they do, they not only make you feel better, but they improve your physiology too. When psychologist Sarah Pressman and her colleagues examined who pleasurable activities impact our wellbeing, they found that enjoyable leisure activities are associated with lower blood pressure, smaller waist circumference, and a lower body mass index. People also feel better physically and are less likely to be depressed.

Having a hobby can also improve the way your heart functions. In one study, researchers examined how hobbies might impact coronary arteries which were near-normal. They were in the earliest stages of being clogged.  They found that having a hobby was associated with heart arteries that dilated more easily, and blood was able to flow through them more easily.

Hence, hobbies can be helpful for your head and your heart. To get started:

1. Choose a hobby that you enjoy.

2. Plan for an hour a day of activity.

3. Clarify how this hobby relates to your primary vocation. For example, if it is a sport, see how you can apply the learning about when to be offensive or defensive.

4. Monitor your mood, memory, weight, and overall cardiovascular function to see if this hobby makes a difference for you.

To learn more about how hobbies can impact your mind and your life, get a copy of Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind (Ballantine Books, 2017)