Study: Hobbies a crucial component of healthy aging

Although many people look forward to retirement as a time when they no longer have to work a 9-to-5, it's important that they don't simply kick back and relax once they leave the workforce. Seniors often place a heavy emphasis on staying mentally and physically active during retirement, and a new study offers convincing evidence as to why that's a good idea. Researchers from Concordia University in Montreal found that taking up a hobby later in life can not only stave off depression, but it may also boost seniors' brain power.

Stay stimulated
The study followed more than 330 healthy retirees with an average age of 59. Researchers administered a number of assessments meant to measure cognition, motivation and levels of activity each year. After analyzing the results, the study team determined that adults who enjoyed an interest in everything from traveling and reading to exercise had better cognitive function than those who had fewer hobbies. Experts say engaging in such activities can help stem the tide of age-related cognitive decline that sometimes coincides with retirement.

"Retirement usually occurs right around the time when normal age-related declines in cognitive function come to the fore," said clinical psychologist and study leader Dr. Lawrence Baer. "So it is important to understand what is happening to brain power during this period and to identify risk factors for mental decline, as well as factors that will help protect against it."

Best choices
There are certainly no bad choices when it comes to staying active during retirement, but previous research has suggested that traveling may be an important part of a healthy lifestyle for seniors. This is especially true when it comes to improving seniors' mental well-being. In 2012, a study conducted by Heart Mind Strategies found out just how true this is. Researchers polled 1,000 Americans who had taken at least one overnight trip in the last 12 months. The team found that 77 percent of respondents felt their overall health improved in the aftermath of a trip. Additionally nine out of 10 respondents said they felt happier. 

"Americans are always on the go, and that rapid pace has serious effects on the deterioration of the mind and body," said Dr. Ian Smith, a member of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. "I hope the findings of this research inspire Americans to take their well-being into their own hands and take the time to get away."