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Want to stay healthy and youthful? Here’s the one secret you need

Having a life passion is possibly the closest one could come to sipping from the fountain of youth.

Ask 10 busy women what their hobbies are, and five out of 10 will probably tell you they are too busy to have hobbies. Defined as something people do for leisure during free time, hobbies today are considered a luxury for time-strapped working women and mothers. Just one generation ago, most women indulged in at least one hobby, whether swimming, crocheting, baking, gardening, reading, handicraft or others. Today, many of these activities are becoming less common, driven by higher purchasing power and the easy availability of commercially available products.

Although women are living longer than ever, not every woman who lives to a ripe old age enjoys a good quality of life. Many have to battle various health conditions associated with ageing, such as arthritis, osteoporosis, dementia, depression and others. Many of these diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease, are more prevalent among women than men. Interestingly, many studies are now showing that women can easily stay healthy and youthful – mind, body and soul – by having a hobby. Not only that, the more intense and dedicated the interest levels, the higher the health benefits.

Staying young at heart

One of the most studied benefits of hobbies are in the fields of neuroscience, where people with mentally-stimulating hobbies such as reading, jigsaw puzzles or chess, have lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. One survey among 70-year-olds conducted in 2001 and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that people with intellectually challenging hobbies in their younger days were 2.5 times less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease. This excludes passive activities such as watching television, internet surfing or listening to music.

In families with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, hobbies help to delay its onset, thus providing a better quality of life for affected families. The researchers stressed that the brain, like any other organ in the body, needs “exercise” and stimulation to stay healthy and vibrant, the same way physical activity strengthens muscles and bones. Hobbies provide eustress, the kind of good stress that stimulates people to stay excited about life. For people with boring jobs or sedentary lifestyles, the eustress helps breaks monotony, create new challenges, spark new ideas, and basically, look forward to another new day, week or month.

Most hobbies require focus and dedication, such as concentrating on a new cake recipe or knitting design, which forms an “escape route” for people with high stress levels. Focusing on completing a particular project puts one into a meditative state. Many people get so absorbed in their hobbies that they lose track of time and space! One of the consequences is increased mental clarity, better stress management and higher productivity levels.

A study conducted by the San Francisco State University and published in the Journal Of Occupational And Organizational Psychology a few years ago also showed that employees with hobbies tend to be more creative in their job functions and supportive towards co-workers. And then there are the social benefits. Joining a club or society of like-minded hobbyists helps cultivate social interaction, using your hobby as a common “language”. It’s an ideal situation, particularly for introverts, who have trouble making small talk and initiating conversations, because hobbyists can indulge together in their favourite activity without saying a single word.

Having a hobby also boosts confidence, and is therapeutic for people with mental disorders such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), schizophrenia and others. There is even a meaning-centred psychotherapy technique known as logotherapy, which compels patients to find purpose in their hobbies of choice as a way to eliminate old hurts and find closure to unfinished business.

Starting and sticking at it

In our busy lives, finding the time for hobbies may be daunting in the beginning. Begin by dedicating a certain time of the day or week for your hobby, and stick to it as much as possible. Be realistic about your time commitments and choose your hobbies wisely. For instance, if your schedule is too tight and you are staying alone, keeping pets or having a big garden may not be a good idea because both require consistent and frequent care.

Always choose something that you are really interested in and not just something that is currently trending in the market. Start conservatively by trying out a few sessions first before committing more finances into getting materials and tools required for your hobby. This is where hobby groups will come in handy with their advice, assistance and possible loaning of tools to get you kick-started into action.

Find yourself a partner or buddies, and brainstorm together on new goals, destinations and action plans. The support system will provide the necessary motivation to continue even when you fall behind due to a lack of discipline or poor time management. Just remember that your hobbies will help you age better by reducing risks of memory loss, stress levels and dementia, as well as keep you physically active.

If nothing else, hobbies keep people happy and engaged. If that is not the secret to eternal youth, what else is?

THE STAR MALAYSIA, January 10,2015
By Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar

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