In Praise of Healthy Hobbies

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healthy-hobbies

Optimal health means working out and eating well, but it also involves making time for activities like reading, art, and music. New research makes the case for these not-so-trivial pursuits.

Novel Findings

Readers may live longer, according to a new study published in Social Science & Medicine.

Yale University researchers divided 12 years of data from 3,635 Americans over age 50 into three groups: those who didn’t read books, those who read up to three and a half hours a week, and those who read for three and a half hours or more weekly.

After controlling for variables like race, sex, class, education, and self-reported health, researchers found that both groups of book readers were 20 percent less likely to die prematurely than nonreaders and lived an average of 23 months longer.

Readers also had stronger cognitive abilities, such as recall and counting backward, which prior studies have linked to increased longevity.

While the results don’t prove causation, they do suggest that cracking a book can boost your brain power.

High Art

Creative types may have de-stressing down to an art. Researchers at Philadelphia’s Drexel University recruited 39 adults, ranging in age from 18 to 59, to participate in 45 minutes of art making by using clay, drawing with markers, or creating collages.

To measure cortisol levels (an indicator of stress), researchers collected saliva samples from participants before and after their creative work.

The results, published in Art Therapy, noted reduced levels of the stress hormone in roughly three-quarters of the participants.

While cortisol levels dropped by various degrees, there was no correlation between those who had spent significant time creating art prior to the study and those who hadn’t, suggesting you don’t have to be an artist to benefit from letting your creativity flow.

Musical Treatment

Like reading and art, listening to your favorite tunes is also good for your health, according to a study published in Deutsches Äerzteblatt International.

German researchers placed 120 subjects into two groups: half who listened to the music of either Mozart, Strauss, or ABBA for 25 minutes, and half who spent the time in silence. The team measured each participant’s blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels before and after.

Tuning in to Mozart and Strauss lowered blood pressure and heart rate, while all musical genres and even silence reduced cortisol concentrations. The drop in cortisol levels was greater in men than women — particularly for those who listened to classical music.

So, next time you feel like you need to get a handle on your stress, turn on some Bach.

is an Experience Life staff writer.