For older people, hobby engagement can promote mental wellbeing

Jairia Dela Cruz
19 Sep 2023
For older people, hobby engagement can promote mental wellbeing

Older adults who engage in activities during their leisure time for pleasure appear to be less depressed and are happier and more satisfied with their life in general, as shown in a study.

Pooled data from five longitudinal studies involving 93,263 participants across 16 countries showed that hobby engagement was associated with fewer depressive symptoms (pooled coefficient, −0.10, 95 percent confidence interval [CI], −0.13 to −0.07), as well as higher levels of self-reported health (pooled coefficient, 0.06, 95 percent CI, 0.03–0.08), happiness (pooled coefficient, 0.09, 95 percent CI, 0.06–0.13), and life satisfaction (pooled coefficient, 0.10, 95 percent CI, 0.08–0.12). [Nat Med 2023;doi:10.1038/s41591-023-02506-1]

The associations persisted despite adjustment for other factors such as partnership status, employment, and household income.

Across countries, the prevalence of hobby engagement varied substantially. There were countries where only one in two people had a hobby such as in Spain (51.0 percent of respondents), and then there were others where hobby engagement was ubiquitous such as in Denmark (96.0 percent). But it is important to note that the benefits of having a hobby are relatively universal, with only small differences between countries, according to the investigators led by Dr Karen Mak of University College London Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care, London, UK.

“However, on average, more adults aged [at least] 65 years had hobbies in countries with higher world happiness index score and life expectancy, and the relationship between hobby engagement and life satisfaction and self-reported health was slightly stronger in such countries,” Mak added.

The present data provide evidence that hobbies can help older people maintain their mental health and wellbeing, regardless of their country or cultural background.

Life satisfaction

Mak noted that out of the four mental health outcomes assessed in the study, life satisfaction had the strongest link 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.

“Theoretical work suggests the relationship between hobbies and wellbeing 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,” she continued.

The bidirectional association is particularly encouraging, because it could mean that efforts to increase hobby engagement may alter subsequent mental wellbeing. Indeed, in the current study, the association between hobbies and life satisfaction was seen not only in healthier respondents but also in those who were living with long-standing mental or physical health conditions. This suggests that hobbies may be a valuable intervention for people with mental or physical health problems, according to Mak.

“[F]acilitating greater opportunities for [hobby] engagement across demographic groups and between countries should be a priority in efforts to increase healthy life expectancy and relieve the increased burden of ageing populations on healthcare systems internationally,” Mak said.

“Results from this study could also be used as evidence when formulating and developing schemes to increase equity of access to leisure activities among older adults across demographic groups and between countries, as well as in integrating psychosocial interventions into health services or public health strategies (for example, through social prescribing schemes) to reduce morbidity, mortality, and healthcare burden, and enhance ageing experiences among older adults,” she added.

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