I don’t know about anyone else, but whenever someone asks me what I like to do in my free time, I blank. Truth be told, I read, and I watch films. And that’s about it. When looking for new hobbies, what do we look for? Things that are fun, things we can do with other people, things we can eat. But what about using our free time doing something fun, that also does good for our brain at the same time. And no, I do not just mean Sudoku. Unless you really like Sudoku, in which case go for it.
Here are some hobbies you can do that keep your brain whirring and healthy. And hobbies that don’t include learning French or taking up ju-jitsu. Hobbies you can do at home. Nor have I included exercise because in my own humble opinion it’s not a hobby so much as something you just have to do. Like drink water or brush your teeth.
Gardening has been shown to help reduce stress and alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. Engaging both your brain and your body, it has even been known to help strengthen the brain and reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s. So, as well as getting a little fresh air and re-connecting with nature, gardening also stimulates your brain and gives you a sense of fulfilment. Whether you start growing your own herbs or vegetables, have some hanging baskets or a window box, eating your own produce or filling your home with flowers is a wonderful thing to do. Will probably make your mum proud as well, which is a nice bonus.
A lot of people recommended taking up an instrument, which is very good for your brain. But so is simply listening to music. Music helps to enhance cognitive performance as well as reducing stress and improving memory. Tell people that in your free time you listen to classical symphonies, I think they’ll be very impressed. Music helps your brain on all accounts, from the cognitive to the mindful. Most of us already do it anyway.
Does dancing count as exercise? Depends on how you do it, I reckon. I for one am a terrible dancer but I have been known to dance around the house when no-one’s around, often to the wonderful sound of Dolly Parton. Dancing gives the benefits of music, above, and helps the sensory and motor circuits. When we dance, we improve brain function and memory, as well as a nice boost of serotonin (the feel-good hormone) and helps to develop new neural connections. Whether you take up classes, make a group with some friends or just fire up the old Just Dance, it’s a hobby that does good all round.
See also, embroidery, cross stitch, painting, quilting, anything really that uses your hands, origami, if you like. The repetitive motions of knitting in particular put you in a relaxed state similar as to doing yoga or meditating (good for those of us who can’t really sit still that long). It also reduces levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), lowers heart rate and blood pressure and helps with anxiety. And at the end of it all, you get a nice new jumper or scarf, a feeling of accomplishment and pride, and a new winter wardrobe.
Now, alongside the old reliable Sudoku, Scrabble and chess, loads of games are good for improving brain function. From Trivial Pursuit, Charades, Monopoly, to video games that can provide mental stimulation, games can help keep certain skills sharp. Skills such as: processing speed, reaction time, decision making and short-term memory.
Luckily for me, reading is excellent for the brain. Nonfiction gives you the chance to learn new things, and learning, I think we all know is always encouraged. Reading has numerous benefits for the brain including mental stimulation, stress reduction, vocabulary expansion (I have been known to mispronounce words because I’ve only ever seen them written down) and memory improvement. It can also help you sleep and improve brain connectivity. Read an educational book on psychology or feminism, read a faraway YA series or read to kids, good for your brain and your mood.