Jul. 01, 2013

Hobbies for Happiness - 5 fun activities to boost your mood and spirit

Summer is the season of fun and relaxation, a perfect time to pick up a new hobby. Hobbies not only entertain us but also can offer real health benefits, including stress relief, mental stimulation, social interaction, and physical exercise. Here are five popular and inexpensive pastimes for people of all activity levels, and easy ways to get started:

Seek feathered friends. If you’re looking for fresh air and new friends, it’s hard to beat bird watching. All you need is a pair of binoculars and a neighborhood to walk through—or, for those with limited mobility, a window and a comfy chair. The Cornell University Ornithology Lab offers a beginner’s guide to bird watching at  allaboutbirds.org, where you can learn about local species, chat with fellow enthusiasts, and watch “bird cams” of winged wildlife around the world.

Make mindful moves. Find your inner Zen with a yoga or tai chi class. Many community centers and YMCAs offer inexpensive group classes tailored to beginners and people with physical limitations. Gentle yoga and tai chi involve slow movements that put minimal stress on joints and muscles. (The Mayo Clinic recommends tai chi for increased aerobic capacity, strength, and flexibility.) Check out ymca.net or your local community center for classes near you.

Help a stray. Pet owners know what a mood booster a furry friend can be, and there are hundreds of homeless animals in need of some TLC. Not only is volunteering at a local animal shelter or rescue facility good for would-be pets—helping prepare nervous kitties and puppies (and don’t forget the bunnies and horses!) for new homes—but spending time with animals provides real benefits for people as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that animal companions help lower blood pressure and stress, and decrease feelings of loneliness. The ASPCA (aspca.org) can point you to local shelters seeking volunteers, and link to other ways to help.

Create history. Scrapbooking stretches your creative muscles and helps ensure your memories will last. Computer whizzes can design books with digital images through websites like Mixbook.com, while craftier types need only a blank book or binder, scissors, and their imaginations to preserve cherished memories. Additional materials and ideas can be found at craft stores or at scrapbooking websites.

Get on the “write” track. You may not think of yourself as an author, but jotting down your thoughts—whether in a journal or a more public online page—can increase mental and physical well-being. A 1998 study found that people who journal about traumatic events experience reduced stress. And having an online journal, or blog, can connect you to other writers and provide community support from the comfort of home. Try Blogger.com or Wordpress.com for free, easy setup.


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