I’ll separate hobbies here from types of exercise. Although running, walking, swimming laps, and bicycling may be great healthy hobbies, I’ll focus more on hobbies that are more pastimes with healthy extra benefits. There is not a lot of research into which of these are most healthy, but I’ll give a shot at discussing some of the best options.
First let’s discuss the potential health benefits of a hobby. Exercise is the obvious #1 health benefit of any hobby. It’s going to be tough to make the list if it involves sitting in front of a screen/monitor. Blogging is not on my list. Second is a hobby’s social benefits. There are clearly psychological benefits of interactions in social groups, so hobbies will get extra credit if they lead to interpersonal meaningful interactions. Third is the need to think, either analytically, computationally, or just stretch you to think and learn. There is a lot of data showing that especially in the elderly cognitive challenges help improve mental and physical function.
Here is my list of the healthiest hobbies:
- Tennis: This is a vigorous sport that I’ll include as a hobby because it involves a partner, requires practice and regular participation to excel, and is more fun and social than just exercising alone.
- Exercise groups: I’ll include this as a hobby because of the social aspect, and the commitment aspect of needing to participate regularly to keep the group functional. Whether this is a walking group, a biking group, or a dance group, the exercise and social interaction make it high on the list of healthiest hobbies.
- Dancing: Ballroom, swing, whatever the style, dancing rates high on all of the criterion above.
- Gardening: If you like working in the dirt, reaping the benefits of your toils in the kitchen or as a favor to the eye in the yard, this is a hugely popular and healthy option for exercise.
- Hiking: The fact that it’s more than just walking - taking planning, preparation, and usually social interaction - puts hiking on the list.
- Birding: Note, I say birding, not bird watching. Birders are passionate and tend to go find birds. This usually involves walking, social interaction, and certainly has a cognitive component. The fresh air and exercise along with the other benefits put this on the list. (It’s also my hobby, so that gives it extra credit.)
- Golf: Lower on the list than you might think, because of the big time commitments, cost, and golf only gets credit if you don’t use a cart. Still, if walked briskly, done regularly, and enjoyed, it is a healthy choice.
- Cooking: Included here because almost anything you cook has the potential to be a healthier meal than something out of a box, can or at a restaurant.
Honorable mention go to reading, doing puzzles, and writing for their cognitive benefits.
Leave a comment to let me know what you think I should have included on the list, and follow me on twitter to find my comments on other choices that come to mind about this and other topics.