8 Hobbies That Are Actually Good For You

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In today's hectic pace of overtime, constant emailing, and prioritizing work above all else, we all need to find little ways to care for our own well-being. Every single one of us has hobbies; and even if you don't know it, some of these are hobbies that are actually good for you. I'm not talking about watching TV, although I'm known to marathon Girls every now and again. I'm referring to a number of other activities that are entertaining, engaging, and improve your physical and mental health while you're doing them.

It's so easy to put your health on the back burner. We don't go to the gym because we don't have time. We opt for fast food because it's quick and cheap and we can eat it in the car on the way to work. But what we don't realize is that if we don't put our own health first, nothing else will get accomplished — not work, not play, not time with the people who matter to us.

You might be participating in some of these hobbies already. But if you aren't, even if it seems like you have no wiggle room in your schedule, make time to have some fun — and do your mind and body good.

1Gardening

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I kill everything I plant; but gardening is good for you regardless, and even science agrees. It can help lower blood pressure, stimulate brain activity, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve happiness. The evidence is so convincing that it even has a name — horticultural therapy — and it's utilized in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, jails, and beyond. It can even help you manage a healthy weight, decrease the chance of osteoporosis, fend off dementia, and reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease.  

Even if you're like me and don't have a green thumb, try spending a little time in a garden (even an indoor one!) to enjoy the benefits.

2Cooking

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Of course, cooking gives you more control over what's going into your body, which presents a variety of health benefits that you wouldn't get from eating out frequently; but it goes so far beyond that. "Kitchen therapy" or "culinary therapy," as some people lovingly refer to it, is being used at mental health clinics and therapy offices because it's so advantageous mentally and emotionally. It's often utilized as a treatment for mental and behavioral conditions, like depression, anxiety, ADHD, addiction, and eating disorders.

Making yourself focus on a task can help get you out of a negative mindset and find a more peaceful, meditative state. Head to the kitchen for mental and physical well-being!

3Traveling

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Some of us live for vacations — the next holiday, the next long weekend, the next getaway abroad or adventurous road trip. When planned properly, traveling can work wonders for mood stabilization and help people suffering from depression, anxiety, and other disorders. Additionally, disconnecting from your normal lifestyle — which brings daily stressors — and immersing yourself in a new environment can help reduce stress. It often forces us to be a little more active, and brings us closer to the people we travel with (and new people that we meet).

Experts say that especially if you go somewhere with language and other cultural barriers, learning to adjust can help with your openness and make you less vulnerable to daily stressors that might have bothered you more in the past.

4Reading

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If you think you don't like reading, you just haven't found the right material yet. But if you need even more convincing, here it is: Reading is good for your health! It works specific parts of the brain and can improve memory, reduce stress, improve brain function, increase your attention span, help you sleep better, and even help you live longer. One study found that 20 percent of readers reported feeling happier and more satisfied in life with just 30 minutes of reading a week. Depression rates also dropped 20 percent.

It doesn't take much to reap the rewards of reading. Explore nonfiction and fiction, all kinds of genres. I guarantee you will find something you fall in love with.

5Journaling

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Journaling isn't just for teenage girls, and it's certainly nothing to be scoffed at. "Expressive writing," as some experts call it, has been thoroughly explored by science; and the results don't lie: Writing down your thoughts and feelings can have a profoundly positive impact on your life. It strengthens immune cells and has been found to correlate with a decrease in depression, anxiety, and blood pressure, and an improvement in positivity, sleep, social engagement, and the quality of your close relationships.

It isn't as simple as, "I wrote down my feelings and now I feel better" — although that's a huge part of it. Journaling sparks observed, tracked, and measured physiological changes. Pick up the pen and get writing!

6Playing An Instrument

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Whether it's the piano, violin, or any other of the multitude of instruments out there, bettering your musical abilities can work magic on your brain and body. In some research, musical people have outperformed non-musical people on cognitive tasks. Having to learn new tones and skills helps improve memory. Playing an instrument also forces the parts of your brain that control your motor skills to become stronger and more active. Instrument therapy is sometimes used to help people with ADD, insomnia, and depression, making it an excellent kind of medicine.

Playing an instrument might be especially important for children, as some research has found that musical training far outweighs computer training in enhancing kids' reasoning skills that are needed for math and science in particular.

7Learning A New Language

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Research suggests that regardless of your age, learning a new language can improve brain function. People who know more than one language have been found to have better concentration and attention. It can increase intelligence and slow the aging process, potentially helping protect you from Alzheimer's. Compared to people who speak one language, those who speak more than one are also better at planning, decision-making, and prioritizing; they score higher in math, reading, and vocabulary; they're more perceptive and empathetic; they exhibit greater creativity; they have better listening skills; they can switch between tasks more quickly; and they can better pursue long-term goals because they don't need immediate gratification.

8Jigsaw Puzzles

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Don't make jokes: Jigsaw puzzles aren't just for retirement homes. Studies have found that they can enhance memory, critical thinking, visual perception, and creativity; improve coordination; and increase the dopamine production in your brain — which effects emotions, movement, and your sense of pleasure and pain. Jigsaw puzzles also challenge your dexterity, logic, and spatial reasoning. Both sides of your brain have to work in order for you to put a puzzle together, making this a unique — and healthy — activity.