Hobbies Linked to Improved Mental Health and Life Satisfaction

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A recent study led by researchers at UCL (University College London) has uncovered a positive association between engaging in hobbies and improved mental health, happiness, self-reported health, and life satisfaction among individuals aged 65 and older. The findings of this study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, hold true across 16 countries spanning three continents. 

To assess whether the benefits of hobbies were consistent across diverse national settings, the researchers analyzed data from 93,263 individuals aged 65 or above who participated in five longitudinal studies conducted in England, Japan, the United States, China, and 12 European countries. The data spanned four to eight years, revealing that having a hobby was correlated with subsequent reductions in depressive symptoms and increases in happiness and life satisfaction.

While these results suggest a potential causal link, it’s important to note that this study was observational and could not definitively establish causation. Even after accounting for other factors such as partnership status, employment, and household income, the positive effects of having a hobby remained consistent. The study indicated that the benefits of hobbies were largely universal, with only minor variations between countries. 

Dr. Karen Mak, the lead author of the study from the UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care, commented, “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.” 

She further explained, “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.” 

Dr. Mak also noted, “Theoretical work suggests the relationship between hobbies and well-being 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.” 

The study’s findings support policymakers in promoting access to hobbies among older individuals as a means to enhance their well-being and overall health. Hobbies, defined as activities undertaken during leisure time for pleasure, encompass a wide range of activities, including volunteering, club participation, reading, gardening, playing games, and engaging in arts and crafts. 

The study revealed variations in the prevalence of hobbies across countries, with 51% of participants in Spain reporting having a hobby, compared to 96% in Denmark, 95.8% in Sweden, and 94.4% in Switzerland. China had the lowest level of hobby engagement at 37.6%.

However, it’s worth noting that respondents in China were specifically asked about social hobbies, not hobbies in general. Interestingly, countries with higher life expectancy and greater national happiness levels tended to have more people engaged in hobbies. Additionally, the link between well-being and having a hobby was stronger in these countries. 

The five longitudinal studies involved in this research were: the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA), the Japan Gerontological Evaluation Study (JAGES), the US Health and Retirement Study (HRS), the Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), and China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS). In ELSA, JAGES, and HRS, participants were simply asked about their hobbies without a specific definition, while SHARE and CHARLES participants were queried about engagement in a predefined list of hobbies. 



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