Aging

7 Healthy Hobbies That Keep You Sharp As You Age

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Looking for activities for old people, either for yourself or an aging parent? Picking the right ones can go a long way toward long-lasting health and happiness as you get older. If settling up on the couch to watch television is your main method of relaxing (raise your hand if you’re guilty!), it might be time to expand your horizons and pick up a few hobbies that can exercise your mind even while your body chills out.

That’s because science proves that certain leisure-time activities can help keep the mind clear and sharp — and even boost your mood and reduce your stress levels — especially the older you get. The right hobby choices can even help you stay slim without ever setting foot into the gym. Top experts recommend these seven fun things for seniors to do. And hey, there’s no rule that says you can’t try them all! Ready to get started?

1. Reading

Your school librarian was right: Reading is one of the best activities for old people and young people alike. Recent research shows that even reading just six minutes a day lowers stress 68 percent — enough to slash your risk of heart disease and stroke. Reading literally takes your mind off your worries, the study authors explain. Ready to pick up a newspaper, a magazine, or a biography of a beloved star? Consider helping your aging parent get a library card, or take a visit to the bookstore together to pick out a few new titles.

2. Gardening

No more guilt over the hours spent outside in your garden. People who regularly care for plants (in their homes or outside) are 50 percent less likely to be overweight than their non-gardening peers, a new study reveals. “Even light gardening increases heart rate, challenges muscles and improves joint mobility,” says Michael Wald, M.D., at Integrated Medicine in Mount Kisco, New York.

3. Playing Games

Who says that activities for old people shouldn’t make you feel like a kid again? Backgammon, Monopoly, Scrabble and other games spur new connections between brain cells, making you more upbeat now and far less likely to suffer from dementia later, says Dr. Wald. So next time the grandkids sleep over, make game night for the adults, too. More fun for everyone!

4. Knitting

Your brain grows and strengthens through forming new neural pathways, an effect that can be achieved by learning new skills–like knitting. Not only that, the rhythmic motion induces a state of calm the same way meditation and yoga do. In fact, 81.5 percent of 3,545 participating knitters reported feeling happier after engaging in the relaxing pastime according to a 2013 survey published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy.

5. Scrapbooking

Similar to the effects of knitting, scrapbooking stimulates areas of the brain responsible for intelligence and memory. Since you’ll also be creating a lasting way to enjoy some of your favorite memories — with photos, mementos, meaningful decorations — creating a scrapbook at home is truly a win-win.

6. Horseback riding

Sure, it may not be the right hobby for everyone, but this pastoral pastime burns 300 calories an hour. If there’s a horseback riding ranch anywhere near your town, consider taking a trip down and signing up for a beginner course. Spending time with animals is also a known stress reducer and mood-booster.

7. Journaling

Remember that sleek leather journal you were gifted a few Christmases ago? Time to dust it off and invest in a pen you enjoy writing with. That’s because writing pleasant thoughts — or typing, if you prefer the modern way — in a journal daily ups feelings of happiness for months, studies show.

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