Almost everyone searches for ways to boost their mental and physical wellbeing at least a few times during their lives. This makes sense, especially since sometimes changing behavior and reevaluating our habits is necessary to promote healthy growth. One of the most important activities that you can pursue to boost your wellbeing, however, is routinely overlooked.

Having a hobby can significantly increase your mood and physical state if engaged consistently. It might even help you get ahead at work if you are hoping to streamline your abilities and get through projects more quickly. Here are some of the ways that hobbies and health intersect.

Better sleep

Sleep is an essential aspect of a healthy life. The ability to function when we are awake depends upon quality sleep. In fact, without it, our mental and physical wellbeing steeply and consistently declines. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, not sleeping enough and not sleeping well leads to sleep deprivation. This, in turn, decreases productivity and attention, leading to low energy levels and even an increased likelihood of sustaining injuries due to poor focus and awareness of the world around you.

Getting enough sleep can be difficult for many, but the good news is that there are certain steps that can be taken to improve sleep quality. One of the most important is building social support networks with family and friends. Studies conducted by researchers from UC Berkeley examined the impact of practical support and social companions on rest quality and consistency in seniors as well as young adults. They found that both the buffering and direct role of network support directly affects sleep quality.

Psychological distress

Hobbies are important for more than just sleep quality. Aging anxiety is a common issue faced by many as they grow older and develop health issues. This distress impacts quality of life and can negatively affect your ability to appreciate yourself and your social network as you age, leading to decreased social activity. It is vital to maintain those connections as you get older, even when it feels hard to do so.

One study, conducted by researchers from Sweden, measured the link between leisure activities and the psychological distress of aging. They found that purposeful leisure activity was connected to healthier habits. Whether this means that hobbies prevent psychological distress or that individuals who feel better are more likely to be engaged in them is up for debate, but one thing is clear: hobbies are healthy.

Stress reduction

Stress is sometimes unavoidable. However, this doesn’t mean that it does not have significant health implications. According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can affect your thoughts, feelings, body and behavior. Furthermore, chronic stress is related to many serious health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity if left unchecked. It is important to note that stress is not a ‘one size fits all’ issue. Indeed, there are many symptoms that indicate a high level of stress, many of which are often overlooked. Tobacco use, for example, and restlessness are common symptoms of stress. However, they are not often recognized by the people suffering them.

Research conducted in 2014 found that leisure time was associated with a lower incidence of stress and continued relief from life’s daily stressors. More specifically, researchers found that participants who dedicated more time than usual for leisure activities experienced less stress the next day. Additionally, continued access to leisure activities yielded measurably higher results with each day that passed where participants spent time pursuing their interests.

Decreased risk of dementia

The World Health Organization estimates that around 50 million people are living with dementia. This number is expected to increase with time, rising to 82 million by 2030 and 152 million by 2050. While many of these individuals live in low and middle income countries, many of them do not. It is a disease that anyone can develop, in other words, and it can negatively impact both the patient’s life as well as those around them as it erodes memory, behavior and the everyday cognitive abilities needed to do basic tasks such as cook meals and vacuum.

Published in 2011, one study sought to determine if leisure activities are tied to a lower risk of dementia. Researchers found that participation in leisure activities might be protective against developing the disease. A weekly time commitment to hobbies of one hour or more each day was connected to lower dementia risk. Whether you enjoy playing your favorite slot game or prefer quiet time reading, indulging your interests is imperative for your mental health.

General wellbeing

Leading a healthy life is not just about minimizing your risk of developing specific conditions. It is almost impossible to detail the myriad of small things that contribute to less psychological stress, but the impact is striking. Your general wellbeing is tied to leisure activities and hobbies. Spending more time pursuing what interests you and making free time count can help with your quality of life in ways that are not necessarily detailed in medical texts.

One study published in 2009 explored the connection between leisure activities and physical and psychological wellbeing. Researchers sought to determine whether these activities had a measurable impact upon participants. They found that allocating time to interests and activities outside of work or school was tied to lower blood pressure, lower waist circumference, lower total cortisol, and an increased “positive psychological state”.

Invest as much time as possible into your recreational activities, whether that’s singing your heart out, playing online games or sinking your teeth into a juicy novel.

Professional benefits

Dedicating time to pursue hobbies can boost mood, cognitive abilities and physical health. This leads to higher levels of productivity and efficiency in everyday tasks, including at work. It might sound counterintuitive, but spending more time away from work can improve performance by lowering stress levels.

Hobbies are an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Whether you like to spend time collecting stamps or prefer something such as karaoke, taking time out to do something for the pure enjoyment of it is vital for your overall wellbeing.