How hobbies can improve mental health

If you’ve taken up a hobby over the past year, you’re not alone. Many of us have found ourselves with more time on our hands due to the recent lockdowns and have taken the opportunity to learn new skills and participate in meaningful, enjoyable activities as a way to ward off boredom and take our minds off the news. The reality is, having hobbies is good for your mental health no matter what is happening in the outside world. If you’ve yet to be convinced of the psychological benefits of having pastimes, it’s time to take note. In this blog, we explain some of the many ways that hobbies can help to improve mental health and wellbeing. 

Hobbies increase feel-good chemicals in your brain

Whether you’re an avid knitter, you love nothing more than getting green-fingered in the garden or you’re fascinated by genealogy, doing purposeful activities that you find pleasurable is inherently good for your wellbeing. It’s been scientifically proven that when we participate in such activities, the reward systems in our brains become activated and chemical messengers, such as mood-regulating dopamine, are released. This gives us feelings of pleasure and joy, and can increase our motivation to take part in these activities again. 

Hobbies can improve memory and executive function

Engaging in hobbies that get your brain stimulated can help to improve your memory and reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Some studies have found that people who play musical instruments, do crossword puzzles and play games, for example, are more likely to have better memory and executive functioning skills. They also tend to have a reduced risk of dementia. 

You don’t have to be a sudoku master to keep your brain healthy. There are plenty of brain-boosting activities out there, from reading and painting to crochet and chess, so you’re sure to find one that you find fun. 

Physical pastimes can reduce your risk of mental health problems too

We’re told time and time again about the benefits of exercise for our physical health but did you know that staying active can boost your mental health too? Studies suggest that exercise can have a positive impact on our mood, self-esteem and sleep quality, and reduce our levels of anxiety and fatigue. There is also strong scientific evidence to suggest that adults who participate in daily physical activity have a 20-30% lower risk of developing depression and dementia. 

You don’t have to have a gym membership to stay active. The key to a good relationship with exercise is finding something that you find enjoyable. You could take up pilates, yoga or tai chi. Or you could become more active by taking walks, gardening on a regular basis or dancing around your living room to your favourite music. Whatever you do, remember you should consult a health professional before embarking on a new exercise regime. 

Hobbies can reduce social isolation and loneliness

In England alone, twenty-five million adults feel occasionally, sometimes or often lonely, according to the Campaign to End Loneliness. That’s 45% of the adult population, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made the situation worse. Sadly, loneliness can have a devastating impact on health and wellbeing, putting sufferers at an increased risk of depression, cognitive decline and dementia. 

While it can be challenging to keep loneliness at bay with social restrictions in place, it’s important to do all we can to stay connected in these difficult times. While unfortunately, many of the usual volunteering programmes and social groups will have paused, you may be able to find a hobby-based community online that’s right for you. From web-based book clubs and virtual choirs to exercises classes via Zoom and piano lessons over FaceTime, there are plenty of opportunities to make friends and build social support networks through hobbies while in lockdown. You can even volunteer from home for one of the many charities looking for help.

 Looking for hobby inspiration? Check out some of Britain’s most loved creative hobbies here. Have you taken up a new hobby during lockdown or is there a pastime you’ve always enjoyed? Tell us using the hashtag  #CreativeBritain.

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