7 Hobbies That Help You Live Longer

Couple gardening
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Hobbies are part of what makes life fun. And some of them come with a major bonus: They just might lengthen your life.

Research shows that some hobbies have such a powerful influence on your well-being that they can add years — or even decades — to your time on earth.

Following are several hobbies that science says may increase your lifespan.

1. Reading

Woman drinking tea and reading a book
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Stress is a major source of health problems that shorten lives. But simply picking up a book and escaping into another world can reduce stress levels by 68%, according to a study out of the University of Sussex in England.

It takes just six minutes for reading to begin to work its magic, according to the research. Why is reading so effective in soothing your nerves? According to one report detailing the researchers’ findings:

“Psychologists say this is because the human mind has to concentrate on reading and the distraction eases the tensions in muscles and the heart.”

If you’re looking for your next read but have a tight budget, check out “11 Sites That Offer Free E-Books.”

2. Gardening

Woman picking tomatoes in her garden
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A green thumb can help grow your golden years. Several studies show that the physical activity of gardening — combined with being in a lush, green atmosphere — can enhance and extend life.

People in their 60s who garden lower their risk of developing dementia by 36%, according to one Australian study.

Dr. Bradley Willcox of the University of Hawaii notes that many residents in Okinawa — which has the world’s highest concentration of people who have reached age 100 — tend small personal gardens into old age.

And a Harvard University study found that women who live amid lush green vegetation have lower rates of mortality.

If you’re curious about gardening, check out “How to Start a Garden to Save Money on Food.”

3. Cooking

A senior couple cuts vegetables for a salad while cooking a meal in their kitchen
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Restaurant foods and processed goodies can wreck your health, contributing to life-shortening illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. By contrast, people who make meals from scratch are much more likely to eat more healthful fare.

The more often people cook at home each week, the higher they tend to score on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Healthy Eating Index, according to researchers at the University of Washington. The researchers say:

“Home-cooked dinners were associated with greater dietary guideline compliance, without significant increase in food expenditures. By contrast, frequent eating out was associated with higher expenditures and lower compliance.”

4. Listening to music

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A good melody can tickle the ear and add years to your lifespan. Patrick Fagan, a lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, says regularly attending concerts can add years to your life. The study led by Fagan found just 20 minutes of listening can boost your sense of well-being by up to 21%.

In particular, concert attendance boosts:

  • Feelings of self-worth by 25%
  • Feelings of closeness to others by 25%
  • Mental stimulation by 75%

The study concluded that such positive feelings can boost lifespan by up to nine years. According to Fagan:

“Our research showcases the profound impact gigs have on feelings of health, happiness and well-being — with regular attendance being the key.”

5. Volunteering

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One of the best ways to do a little good for yourself is to help others. But only if your motives are pure.

A study published in the journal Health Psychology found that volunteering does indeed extend life — but with a strange caveat, according to the American Psychological Association:

“Volunteers lived longer than people who didn’t volunteer if they reported altruistic values or a desire for social connections as the main reasons for wanting to volunteer, according to the study. People who said they volunteered for their own personal satisfaction had the same mortality rate four years later as people who did not volunteer at all, according to the study.”

Researchers speculated that proper motivation is key to getting the most out of volunteering because it buffers volunteers from stressors — such as impingement on the volunteer’s time and lack of pay — associated with doing good works.

6. Walking

Senior couple walking outdoors
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The simple act of putting one foot in front of the other can have a profound impact on your health. Incredibly, those who take brisk walks might live up to 20 years longer than inveterate couch potatoes, according to a Mayo Clinic study.

Even better, the benefit is available to people regardless of their body mass index, which is a medical measure of weight that accounts for height. So, you don’t have to be a Slim Jim or Skinny Minnie to reap the rewards of walking.

But you do have to put some effort into it: The researchers note that brisk walking — at least 3 miles per hour, or 100 steps a minute — is required to get the life-extending perks.

7. Owning a pet

pet sitting
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Few bonds are as strong as those that bind owners to their beloved pets. A raft of research has found that these owners enjoy many health benefits from being around their furry friends.

For example, a meta-analysis of studies published between 1950 and 2019 found that dog owners had a 24% risk reduction for death from any cause.

The benefit is even more pronounced for people who have existing heart problems. The study authors believe walking a dog — and getting a little extra exercise — may play a big role in these improved health outcomes.

A separate study in the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology found that people who own cats have a reduced risk of death from heart attack or stroke.

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