Join a book club or take up gardening to stave off depression in later life, scientists say
- Having a hobby was found to make people over 65 feel healthier and happier
- A hobby can include almost anything done for fun, either with others or alone
Joining a book club or taking up gardening could help to boost wellbeing in later life.
Having a hobby really has been found to make people over 65 feel healthier, happier and more satisfied with life, while being linked to fewer signs of depression.
Researchers say a hobby may provide joy and a purpose in life, while getting better at a skill could make some older people feel more empowered in their lives generally.
A hobby can include almost anything done for fun, either with other people or alone, from reading and completing crosswords to doing charity work or joining a social club.
The results come from looking at 93,263 people aged over 65 involved in national surveys in 13 European countries, the US, China and Japan.
Researchers say a hobby may provide joy and a purpose in life, while getting better at a skill could make some older people feel more empowered in their lives generally
These included more than 4,000 people in England asked over several years if they currently had a hobby or past-time, then quizzed about their wellbeing for the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.
Some 78 per cent of people did have a hobby, and they were more likely to report feeling happy the previous day, had a higher level of life satisfaction, and were more likely to feel they were in good or excellent health.
In fact people with a hobby reported better health than those without a hobby, even taking into account their actual illnesses — showing people with hobbies felt generally fitter, even when they were not well.
People with a hobby showed fewer signs of depression in a short questionnaire including questions about feelings of loneliness, sadness and hopelessness.
The English survey did not ask people what their hobbies were.
Read more: Depression is direct cause of type 2 diabetes, research suggests
Experts have long known that people with the condition are around twice as likely to suffer depression compared with those without diabetes
But the full study asked people across the continents if they did hobbies as wide-ranging as reading, playing chess, doing word and number puzzles, gardening, or joining sports and social clubs and doing charity work.
The people who reported these hobbies internationally also tended to have better health, happiness and life satisfaction, and less depressive symptoms — in both retired people and working people, who may benefit from a stress-busting hobby.
This was even after taking into account other things which could affect life satisfaction, including financial circumstances and employment.
It is possible that people who are happier tend to have hobbies, rather than the other way around.
But statistical analysis appeared to show that having a hobby first, in an earlier survey, was linked to better wellbeing in later surveys.
Dr Karen Mak, who led the study published in Nature Medicine, from University College London, said: ‘Doctors sometimes do social prescribing, where they recommend people try things like dancing, painting, crafts or getting out in nature to boost health and wellbeing, and this research on hobbies suggests that really may be useful to some people.
‘When people engage in a hobby, and get better at it over time, that can feel very empowering, so may help them feel more in control of their everyday lives, and give them a greater sense of purpose.’
Meanwhile smoking more than doubles your risk of being hospitalised with depression, according to a separate study.
Researchers looked at 337,140 British people who signed up to the UK Biobank study, comparing current smokers to people who had never smoked.
Among men who currently smoked, 8.5 per cent were hospitalised with depression, compared to only 3.5 per cent of men who never smoked.
Among women, 13.2 per cent of current smokers ended up in hospital with depression, compared to 5.9 per cent who never smoked.
The authors note that people typically started to smoke before the age of 20, but were not hospitalised with depression until they were between 30 and 60.
Professor Doug Speed, senior author of the study published in the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, from Aarhus University in Denmark, said: ‘Smoking typically comes before mental illness – in fact, a long time before.
But the full study asked people across the continents if they did hobbies as wide-ranging as reading, playing chess, doing word and number puzzles, gardening, or joining sports and social clubs and doing charity work
‘We don’t know why, but it could be that smoking causes inflammation in the brain, or nicotine inhibits absorption of the ‘happy hormone’ serotonin, and in the long-term this leads to mental disorders like depression.’
Another study found a healthy lifestyle is crucial for helping prevent depression – regardless of a person’s genetic risk.
A good night’s sleep, of between seven and nine hours a night, was found to reduce the risk of depression by 22 per cent, among almost 290,000 people from the UK Biobank study.
Frequent social connections, like seeing friends and family fairly often, were linked to an 18 per cent lower risk, according to a research team including the University of Cambridge and Fudan University in China.
Not drinking, or having moderate alcohol consumption , was found to decrease the risk of depression by 11 per cent, a healthy diet reduced the risk by six per cent, and regular physical activity by 14 per cent.
Professor Barbara Sahakian, a co-author of the study published in the journal Nature Mental Health, from the University of Cambridge, said: ‘Although our DNA – the genetic hand we’ve been dealt – can increase our risk of depression, we’ve shown that a healthy lifestyle is potentially more important.
‘Some of these lifestyle factors are things we have a degree of control over, so trying to find ways to improve them – making sure we have a good night’s sleep and getting out to see friends, for example – could make a real difference to people’s lives.’
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