Engagement in a hobby improves several aspects of mental wellbeing, including fewer depressive episodes, a higher level of self-reported health, happiness and life satisfaction, according to the findings of a recent international study led by a team from University College London (UCL).
Uptake of a hobby varied considerably between countries, ranging from 96% in Denmark to as low as 31% in China. There was a consistent finding across the different countries suggesting that the impact of hobby engagement was a universal effect.
The study, published in Nature Medicine, examined the longitudinal relationship between mental wellbeing in 93,263 people from five different studies, undertaken across 16 nations, including England, Japan, the United States, China and 12 European countries.
To allow for comparisons, the researchers focused on those who were 65 years of age and older, and these individuals were then followed for a period of between four and eight years. Adjustments to the analysis were then made for various factors which might have influenced the outcome such as age, partnership status, the number of household members and employment status.
Although having a hobby improved all of the measures of well-being examined, life satisfaction was most consistently related to hobbies. The researchers suggested that encouraging people to take up a hobby has the potential to improve their mental wellbeing in later life. Nevertheless, since this was an observational study, it was unable to prove causality, i.e., that hobby engagement was the direct cause of the improvements in mental wellbeing.
Commenting on the findings, lead author Dr Karen Mak, from UCL said: ‘Our study shows the potential of hobbies to protect older people from age-related decline in mental health and wellbeing. This potential is consistent across many countries and cultural settings.
She added: ‘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’.
Rod Tucker is a clinical writer