New Hobbies Can Help Older Adults Escape Depression Later in Life

June 4, 2020 Updated: June 4, 2020

A new study from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing reveals how adopting a new hobby may help older adults keep depressive symptoms at bay, an important finding given rising levels of depression among this population.

Previous studies have shown the importance of non-medical sources of support for overall health and this study affirms a direct relationship between taking up new hobbies and easing depressive symptoms. Activities such as drawing, music, or handicrafts like sewing, collecting, carpentry, or model making have been shown to help relieve symptoms of depression.

These activities, along with others such as volunteering, can provide engagement, self-expression, creativity, and relaxation, all of which are positively associated with mental health.

The study included data from 8,780 adults with an average age of 67 with biennial measures from 2004/5 to 2016/17. At the start of the study, 71.9 percent reported having a hobby or pastime, while 15.6 percent were above the threshold for depression using the Centre for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D).

Researchers found that taking up a hobby was associated with 30 percent lower odds of experiencing depression and a decrease in depressive symptoms. In addition, they found that taking up a hobby was associated with the maintenance of lower levels of depressive symptoms and 32 percent lower odds of developing depression in those who did not previously have a depression diagnosis.

In those who had depression at the start of the study, and did not have a hobby, starting one was associated with 272 percent higher odds of recovering from the depression and a high improvement in depressive symptoms. These results were consistently found in both men and women.

Improving the Quality of Life

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of people aged 65 or older will more than double by 2030, and ideas for improving the quality of life for those living longer means increasing activity. This study helps to support the use of social prescribing of hobbies, as an alternative to drugs, for this aging population. Prescribing hobbies can help supplement patients’ existing health care plans.

Taking up a new hobby doesn’t have to mean investing in expensive supplies or joining a class. It can be as simple as picking up a book. Reading, walking, or even just getting outside to watch the birds can help with mental health. No matter what you enjoy, there are hobbies you can take up to help keep depressive symptoms at bay.

Mat Lecompte is a freelance health and wellness journalist. This article was first published on Bel Marra Health.