4 ways hobbies can boost your health

by Kaiser Permanente |
Laughing group of friends at book club

Who doesn’t love a good hobby? It can offer a break from the daily grind. An opportunity to meet up with friends. Something to look forward to at the end of the work shift.

But did you know hobbies also have physical and mental health benefits? Dancing or gardening, running, or baking — it doesn’t matter whether your chosen pastime is intense or mellow. Making time to do what you enjoy can help you ease your stress, lift your mood, and expand your social circle. It can even help you manage chronic pain, improve your heart health, and add quality years to your life.

Below are 4 good reasons to pursue your passions — and a few tips on how to cultivate new interests.

Give stress the boot — or the brush-off

Feeling more stressed lately? You’ve got company. Over half (55%) of Americans said they experienced stress during the day.1

Release your tension with a physical activity like kickboxing, hiking, or even gardening. Or consider something less intense like painting or knitting.

Whatever your preference, research shows that when you engage in interests you enjoy, you’re more likely to have lower stress levels, a lower heart rate, and a better mood. You’re also more likely to engage in the world around you.2

Get moving, feel your health improving

If your passions include physical activity, you’re doing your body and your brain a favor.

For starters, it can help reduce your risk of heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. Research suggests if you get in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week, you’re cutting your overall risk of early death by 31%. Even low-intensity physical activity for less than an hour each week could trim your risk by 18%.3

Physical activity also leads to better mental health. A large-scale study of more than 1.2 million Americans found that people who exercised reported 43% fewer days of poor mental health in the past month than those who didn’t exercise.4 And if you head to the great outdoors for your activity, you don’t have to overexert yourself. Research finds that simply spending 2 hours a week in nature can positively affect your health and well-being.5 Maybe it’s time to start thinking about forest bathing.

Want to ease into a hobby that gets you moving?

  • Sign up for a local sports league, like kickball or volleyball
  • Strike some starter yoga poses
  • Try resistance band exercises
  • Swim a lap in your community pool
  • Go for a walk around your neighborhood
  • Join a walking, running, or biking group

Challenge your mind, boost your brain

Think about your biggest interests. Do you love visiting art museums? See if you enjoy drawing, photography, or calligraphy. Enjoy the theater? Audition for or volunteer at a community play. Constantly listening to music? Sign up for lessons, like piano or guitar. These brain-boosting activities can help exercise your mind.

Thanks to the creativity and focus that come with activities like these, the arts have long been linked to benefits like reducing stress and enhancing confidence. Also, a recent study found that art activities can help improve mental health.6

You don’t have to limit your creativity to the more traditional arts, either. Maybe quilting, woodworking, or homebrewing is up your alley. Interested in learning something new? Check out classes offered at your local community college, library, or community center. You could:

  • Learn a new language
  • Write a short story
  • Design a website
  • Cook up a culinary masterpiece
  • Create a work of art in a ceramics studio

Turn your passion projects into team time

Feeling lonely is common, but too much of it might harm your health more than you know. Loneliness can lead to an increased risk of early dementia, heart disease, and stroke. It’s also linked to higher rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide.7 One study found that a long-term lack of social connections carries health risks equal to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.8 And that’s just physical health. Spending too much time apart from others can also put your brain at increased risk for depression, cognitive decline, and even dementia.9

The good news: Positive relationships can make us happier and healthier. People with strong social relationships can even decrease their odds of early death by as much as 50%.10 Even better news: Your hobbies can help you build those relationships.

Music your muse?

Find other musicians to play with. Go to an open jam session. Or start your own band.

Care about a cause?

Volunteer with a like-minded nonprofit. Pitch in at an animal shelter, lead a workshop at a senior center, or help build housing for those experiencing homelessness.

Need a laugh?

Join a comedy improv group in town. You’ll gain public speaking skills and build your confidence.

And if you sometimes prefer time with furry friends over people friends, that’s OK. Pets can help improve your health, too.

Bottom line:

Start enjoying all the health-related benefits that come with doing what you love. Pursue your passions. Find your people. (Or your pets.)

And if you want more tips on how to keep stress at bay, check out some of our favorite stress-reducing activities.

"What Is Stress?" The American Institute of Stress, accessed December 12, 2022.

Matthew J. Zawadzki et al., “Real-Time Associations Between Engaging in Leisure and Daily Health and Well-Being,” Annals of Behavioral Medicine, February 2015.

Min Zhao et al., “Beneficial Associations of Low and Large Doses of Leisure Time Physical Activity With All-Cause, Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer Mortality: A National Cohort Study of 88,140 U.S. Adults,” British Journal of Sports Medicine, November 2019.

Sammi R. Chekroud et al., “Association Between Physical Exercise and Mental Health in 1.2 Million Individuals in the USA Between 2011 and 2015: A Cross-Sectional Study,” The Lancet, September 1, 2018.

Mathew P. White et al., “Spending at Least 120 Minutes A Week in Nature is Associated With Good Health and Wellbeing,” Scientific Reports, June 13, 2019.

Anita Jensen and LO Bonde, “The Use of Arts Interventions for Mental Health and Wellbeing in Health Settings,” Royal Society for Public Health, April 30, 2018.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions,” accessed Oct 27, 2022.

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, “The Potential Public Health Relevance of Social Isolation and Loneliness: Prevalence, Epidemiology, and Risk Factors,” Public Policy & Aging Report, January 2, 2018.

See note 8.

10 Ning Xia and Huige Li, “Loneliness, Social Isolation, and Cardiovascular Health,” Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, March 20, 2018.