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Healthy Hobby: Choosing a New Skill to Help Body and Mind

By Martha Michael

Your Hobby and Your Body

The purpose of adding a hobby to your lifestyle is motivated by reasons from saving money to sheer entertainment. And the outcome may be to design, build or fix something, or to reduce, relate and relax.

If you’re really passionate about your favorite hobby, it can go from occasional entertainment to a rabbit hole obsession, but your level of dedication or the extent to which it distracts you is a topic of its own. When choosing a new hobby, it’s helpful to know that the type of pastimes you enjoy can have a bearing on your health.

Healthiest Hobby

The topic has been researched and the verdict is in -- the healthiest hobby, according to author and longevity expert Dan Buettner, is gardening. His well-known study of centenarians around the world led to a focus on the subject and a drive to find the similarities between the three communities that foster the most longevity:

  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Barbagia region of Sardinia
  • Seventh Day Adventist community in Southern California

With a mostly vegetarian diet, a solid level of exercise, and a strong, supportive community, it makes sense that these populations would fare very well. But another common factor among these areas, known as Blue Zones, is that their residents garden for nearly their entire lives.

What’s so good about gardening? An article on the CNBC website says there are several healthful reasons for its high ranking among healthiest hobbies.

Communing With Nature

The fresh air and exposure to nature makes being outdoors a restorative act. Humans have an innate tendency to respond favorably to a natural environment because it returns the favor. We are biologically predisposed to live and thrive in spaces designed for us. The bonus with gardening is that we get outdoors repeatedly because we are more consistent about tending to plants than we might be just showing up to the gym.

Exercise

Gardening also provides you with exercise, which is a good idea at any age. While it doesn’t match the miles you rack up with your bike club, there are physical benefits.

“Working in the garden restores dexterity and strength, and the aerobic exercise involved can easily use the same number of calories as might be expended in a gym,” says Richard Thompson, a researcher at London’s Royal College of Physicians.

Source of Healthy Food

If your gardening involves growing herbs and other edibles, you get a double benefit -- spending time in nature and healthier meals. Buettner found that residents of Blue Zones tend to grow fruits and vegetables and, by eating them sooner, they absorb up to 30 percent more nutrients from them. A natural process known as respiration occurs after harvest, which breaks down the contents of fresh produce. That means the days spent picking, trucking and stocking the produce in your neighborhood grocery store are minimizing their healthful qualities.

Other Healthy Hobbies

Perhaps announcing gardening as the healthiest hobby right from the top warranted a spoiler alert, but the truth is there are many activities that contribute to your health. If you live in a condominium or apartment, or if you don’t like being outdoors, you have other options besides gardening.

The website LongevityLive.com has an article discussing healthy hobbies during COVID-19 that people were able to pick up due to the quarantine conditions. With an extended period of time at home, more people were free to learn new skills so it widened the range of hobbies they could acquire.

Dancing - The calorie expenditure is obvious, but dance moves have other benefits besides maintaining the size of your waistline. It can reduce your stress level and improve your flexibility and balance. Some experts say you can reduce your risk of developing dementia by learning to dance.

Knitting or sewing - A bit like gardening, using your free time crafting has the byproduct of creating something useful such as a sweater. It not only keeps you warm, it’s also one way to improve your mental health. The website Happiful.com has an article listing some reasons that handcrafting is healthy for you. It encourages mindfulness and provides a distraction from negative thoughts such as anxiety and depression. In a study at the University of Oxford, 74 percent of participants with anorexia nervosa reported it lessened the intensity of their fears and cleared their minds of eating disorder preoccupations.

Learning a language - Another hobby with a side benefit, learning a language sets you up nicely for future travel while exercising your mind. The process of acquiring communication skills is shown to reduce the aging process in your brain and it can broaden your worldview.

Meditation - One of the primary practices designed to lower your stress level, meditation lowers your blood pressure and strengthens your immune system. Downloading an app with guided meditation or even taking time to silently pay attention to your breathing are steps you can take to apply this healthy pastime to your routine.

Following your passion is an easy way to find a new hobby and you’re more likely to stick to it if you love it. The one you choose may not make you rich -- and you might not live to 100 -- but it can help keep your mind and body healthier along the way.

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