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Aging Well: 8 ways to use your leisure time

Research shows that many different leisure activities can support your health and well-being, according to Mather Institute.

This biweekly column is sponsored by The Mather in Tysons, Virginia, a forward-thinking Life Plan Community for those 62 and better.

Many people see their health as something to work on, through goal setting, regular workouts, and diet.

But research shows that “down time” can be very effective at supporting our health and well-being as well. “Many leisure activities provide opportunities to socialize, learn, be active, and carry out your life’s purpose — each of which has been proven to support health and well-being,” explains Cate O’Brien, PhD, the VP and Director for Mather Institute.

Mather Institute has compiled findings from a variety of sources to provide some guidelines on this. The Institute is the research area of Mather, the parent organization to The Mather, a Life Plan Community coming to Tysons.

Here are eight ways to spend your free time that can provide health benefits:

  1. Make Music: Learning to play an instrument challenges your brain and may improve brain function — and playing an instrument is associated with better cognitive and brain health and psychological and physical well-being.
  2. Be Social: Positive, supportive relationships play an important role in well-being. Social support can improve mood, reduce stress, and improve immune function. Spend time with family, friends, or neighbors. Take advantage of opportunities to meet new people and cultivate supportive relationships. Consider joining a group, taking a class, or volunteering to double up on positive effects.
  3. Embrace Your Spiritual Side: Spirituality and religiosity are both linked to good health for a variety of reasons. Persons who are spiritual or religious often have a strong sense of purpose, which is associated with a reduced risk of many diseases. Meditation and prayer can help regulate emotions and in turn, contribute to positive physical functions such as healthy blood pressure.
  4. Volunteer for a Good Cause: It’s not only good for others; it’s good for your health. Volunteering can promote a strong sense of purpose, which is linked to improved coping with stress, positive health behaviors, and even a longer life. Find a cause that is meaningful to you and dedicate some time to it — it doesn’t have to be a lot for you to reap the health benefits.
  5. Get Physical: You already know that physical activity is good for you. Physically active people tend to enjoy a reduced risk of disease and functional limitations, along with a boost to their mental health and brain health. Find an activity you like and move for 30 minutes or more most days. Need extra motivation? Partnering with a friend can help you stay on track.
  6. Join a Group that participates in an activity you enjoy. Group activities seem to provide social benefits over and above those from participating in other social activities. Activities such as singing with a choir or riding with a cycling club can provide a boost to psychological well-being, as well as mental, physical, and cognitive health.
  7. Learn Something New: Learning, whether informal, self-directed, or formal, can improve well-being. Learning a new, mentally challenging skill may help to keep your brain healthy. Consider studying a language, taking dance lessons, learning to quilt, taking up photography, or learning to play an instrument.
  8. Let Purpose and Passion Be Your Guide: Immerse yourself in activities you feel passionate about. First, a strong sense that your activities and goals are purposeful, important, and meaningful — whether it is raising your grandchildren, volunteering to improve the environment, or continuing your education — can improve health and longevity. In addition, simply enjoying an activity keeps you feeling good, helps you stay engaged, and can provide opportunities for growth and social connection.

Choose any of these enticing options for spending your free time, and know that research has proven it is time well spent.

The Mather in Tysons, VA, for those 62 and better, is a forward-thinking Life Plan Community that defies expectations of what senior living is supposed to be. It opens in 2024.