Let’s start with some science. A large body of research suggests that how you spend leisure time matters to your health. Moreover, science says hobbies are good for you in many ways.
In 2010, a team of researchers from universities in Kansas, Pittsburgh and Texas published the results of four large studies with a total of 1,399 participants. The studies included men and women with various health problems, such as upper respiratory illness, arthritis and breast cancer. The researchers developed a scale called the Pittsburgh Enjoyable Activities Test. It measured the effect of hobbies and leisure pursuits on overall health. Here’s what they found:
Better physical health
People who scored higher on the enjoyable activities test had lower body mass index, smaller waists, lower blood pressure, lower stress hormones and better overall physical function. While it’s possible that people who start out healthy are more likely to engage in hobbies, the findings are consistent with other research showing that having hobbies and other leisure pursuits is associated with a variety of benefits, including less severe disease and greater longevity.
You may think that a hobby will take up too much of your leisure time or cut into your sleep. Yet, the Pittsburgh study showed that people who spent more time on their hobbies actually got better sleep.
A large body of research shows that leisure activities can help reduce stress. The Pittsburgh study showed people who took part in a lot of enjoyable activities dealt better with stressful life events. People who scored high on the enjoyable activities test showed lower levels of negative moods and depression, and higher positive attitudes than their low-scoring counterparts.
People who said they participated often in enjoyable activities also had greater life satisfaction and felt their lives had a greater sense of purpose and meaning.
Notably, spending more time on hobbies and leisure pursuits was associated with having a larger and more diverse social network. And we know that a strong social network is a key factor in healthy aging.
And there’s one additional benefit to having a hobby that may surprise you.
Improved work performance
A study at San Francisco State University found that employees who had creative outlets outside of the office were better at creative problem-solving on the job. The findings were based on studies of 430 workers and military personnel that found that having a hobby gave workers a chance to recover from the demands of their jobs, increased their sense of control and in some cases challenged them to learn new skills that were transferable to work.
A word to the wise: Don’t pick a hobby because it will help you at work. Pick a hobby that makes you happy, and any improvement in your work will just be a bonus!