HOBBIES ARE GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH

Do you have a hobby? Hobbies can give meaning and purpose to your life in retirement. As Robert Putnam points out in his book, Bowling Alone, it’s easy to discount the importance of hobbies and social engagements. Putnam details the widespread decline in civic engagement, from PTA memberships to neighborhood potlucks and bowling leagues. Over a couple of generations, Americans have misplaced the concept of free time.

SPECIAL PLANS FOR YOUR SPECIAL PEOPLE

Lily is a beautiful, active and full of personality toddler who happens to have Down syndrome. Lily’s parents and I have been friends for years and I have the continuing pleasure of watching Lily and her siblings grow up. While Lily is becoming a physical therapy rock star and hitting all her milestones in a timely fashion, her parents have started planning for the future.

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WHY WE ENJOY OUR HOBBIES

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a hobby as “a pursuit outside one’s regular occupation, engaged in especially for relaxation.” Hobbies include anything from playing a musical instrument to gardening, bird watching or sewing. A hobby is a way of focusing on something you enjoy just for the sake of that enjoyment. It may also be a way to clear your mental palette. You could be stressed out by a situation at work or the challenges of raising children and need an escape.

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If the goal of 150 minutes a week seems unachievable, start with a few minutes a day and increase the amount of exercise by five or 10 minutes every week until you reach the goal. If you don’t want to walk, consider other moderate-intensity exercises, such as swimming, stair climbing, tennis, squash, pickleball or dancing. Don’t forget household activities can count as well, such as intense gardening, raking leaves or any activity that increases heart pumping so much that you break out in a light sweat.


Some individuals say they just can’t get started. If you’re one of them, consider these options: join a fitness center or work out with a buddy who can help to get you into the routine. Try using an app or wearable tracking device such as a FitBit to measure your progress made toward set goals. If you’re having difficulty getting started on your own, consider hiring a certified personal trainer who can provide guidance, support and accountability for both the type and pace of your exercise program plan. Whatever exercise and options you choose, commit to establishing exercise as a regular daily routine. You’ll find it is very good medicine for both physical and brain health.

Researchers at the University of Maryland have found adults with mild cognitive impairment improved their brain function by adding exercise for brain fitness. Dr. Carson Smith, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Maryland School of Public Health in College Park, said, “We found after 12 weeks of being on a moderate exercise program, study participants improved their neural efficiency.”


Physical exercise recommendations for adults call for 150 minutes of exercise spread out over a week. The activity should cause perspiration and raise the heart rate. For this study, two groups of physically inactive adults were selected. One group was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment and thus at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. The other group had no measured cognitive impairment. Both groups engaged in moderately intense treadmill walking, supervised by a personal trainer, for 12 weeks.


Both before and after the intervention, researchers used functional MRI to measure brain activation. Brain scans taken after the three-month exercise intervention showed enhanced neural efficiency in several areas of the brain typically affected in Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, the study’s subjects improved their cardiovascular fitness by about 10 percent, providing physical benefit. 


Physical exercise is a trigger for thinking and memory functions

PHYSICAL EXERCISE HAS BENEFITS FOR BRAIN HEALTH

both direct and indirect means. The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance and inflammation and to stimulate the release of growth factors, including chemicals in the brain that affect the health of its cells. Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep and reduces stress and anxiety. With inactivity and a sedentary life style, these brain areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment. Several research studies have suggested certain regions of the brain that control thinking and memory are vulnerable to cognitive impairment. These areas include the prefrontal cortex and the medial temporal cortex. With physical inactivity, adults tend to experience some cognitive impairment realized as memory loss.


While clinician researchers are not sure which type of exercise is best, almost all the research studies have found walking to be beneficial for memory gain. The results indicate there was measurable memory improvement with regular exercise. When study participants walked briskly for one hour twice a week, significant improvement in memory function occurred. That 120 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week made a difference in measured memory function.  

DR. THOMAS W. MILLER, PH.D, ABPP



Thomas W. Miller, Ph.D., ABPP, is a professor emeritus and senior research scientist, Center for Health, Intervention and Prevention, University of Connecticut; retired service chief from the VA Medical Center; and tenured professor in the Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, University of Kentucky.