Seniors Can Improve Their Mental Wellbeing Through Hobbies

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In a recent research paper featured in the journal Nature Medicine, a group of scientists endeavored to standardize the metrics for assessing involvement in hobbies and its link to the mental well-being of individuals aged 65 and older. They accomplished this by analyzing data from five longitudinal studies conducted across 16 different countries and investigating the diverse patterns of these connections.


Background of the Study

As the global population continues to age, we are witnessing a rise in critical issues such as loneliness, declining physical and mental health, and social isolation among older individuals. According to data from the United Nations, the segment of the population aged 65 and above is expanding at a faster rate than any other age group. By 2050, it is projected that one in six people worldwide will be over the age of 65. Despite remarkable advances in medical science that have increased life expectancy, there hasn’t been a comparable increase in healthy life expectancy, which refers to the average number of years a person can expect to live without disability, injury, or debilitating mental or physical conditions.

Hence, it becomes imperative to establish a sustainable social care system aimed at enhancing the psychological well-being of older adults. Engaging in social activities is believed to have a positive impact on mental well-being, while pursuing hobbies is thought to provide both mental and cognitive stimulation, as well as valuable social support. However, existing studies and meta-analyses that have explored the relationship between hobby engagement and mental health in older adults have often been limited in scope, either focusing on a single country or lacking standardized measures, rendering their findings less applicable to the broader global population.


About the Study

In this research, data from five longitudinal studies carried out in various countries, including England, Japan, the United States, China, and 12 European nations, were utilized to explore the connections between changes in mental health and engagement in hobbies. The combined dataset encompassed responses from a substantial cohort of over 90,000 participants, whose average age ranged from 71.7 to 75.9 years.

To investigate the longitudinal relationships between alterations in hobby engagement and mental health improvements, a fixed effects model was employed. This model accounted for stable factors such as medical histories, genetics, and psychological traits. Additionally, time-varying elements like clinical conditions, sociodemographic characteristics, and daily life challenges were integrated into the analysis.

The researchers also conducted an ordinary least squares regression analysis to decipher the directionality of the link between hobby engagement and mental well-being. Furthermore, multilevel models were applied to the amalgamated datasets from all 16 countries to elucidate the extent to which national context contributed to the variance in the relationship between mental health and hobby engagement.

Moreover, the study explored individual country-level factors like the happiness index, gross domestic product per capita as an indicator of national wealth, and life expectancy to determine which of these factors better accounted for the variance. Researchers also investigated whether these factors could potentially moderate the impact of hobby engagement on the mental health of older adults.

The research assessed mental well-being across four dimensions, including self-reported health, life satisfaction, happiness, and depressive symptoms. Standardization and harmonization techniques were employed to ensure the comparability of data by recoding and standardizing outcome variables. Hobby engagement was represented as a binary measure for each country, with a simple “yes” or “no” response. Additionally, nine time-variable covariates were considered in the analyses, encompassing factors such as age, partnership status, socioeconomic status, household size, income, employment status, health profiles, and housing tenure.

Results of the Study

The study’s findings indicated that participating in hobbies was linked to reduced instances of depressive symptoms and increased levels of happiness, life satisfaction, and self-reported health among individuals aged 65 and older. Additionally, while overarching factors like the happiness index and life expectancy did influence the strength of this connection, they accounted for less than 9% of the variation observed across different countries.

Interestingly, nations with higher life expectancy and higher happiness index scores tended to have a larger proportion of adults aged 65 and above who were actively pursuing hobbies. In these countries, the correlation between engaging in hobbies and factors such as self-reported health and life satisfaction was more pronounced. However, it’s worth noting that these correlations remained consistent regardless of retirement status, gender, or retirement age across various countries.

Furthermore, the study revealed a bidirectional relationship between mental well-being and hobby engagement over time, with a consistent cycle of negative and positive feedback between health outcomes and leisure activities.

Conclusions Made by Experts

In general, the findings suggest a consistent link between engaging in hobbies and the mental wellbeing of the older adults. An uptick in the pursuit of hobbies appears to lead to a reduction in depressive symptoms and an enhancement in life satisfaction, happiness, and self-perceived health.