During the early stages of life, we often perceive hobbies as mere sources of entertainment, relegated to secondary status after work. The majority neglect the intrinsic value of hobbies, failing to appreciate their significance. Many people lack hobbies, unable to justify time for personal enjoyment amidst a crowded calendar. However, a day eventually arrives when free time is abundant, yet purpose is lacking. In this phase, elders may desire new hobbies but hesitate due to shyness or perceived age-related limitations—an internalized form of ageism. There’s no need to shy away from starting a new hobby; let’s embrace it.
Undoubtedly, hobbies offer diversion, relaxation, and entertainment while also contributing to mental and physical well-being. This holds particular relevance for seniors susceptible to depression due to isolation. Experience demonstrates that leisure activities positively impact senior cognitive and physical health.
If you once had a hobby but abandoned it due to physical limitations or financial constraints, worry not—many hobbies can be enjoyed regardless of these factors. Matching hobbies to the participant’s interests and physical capabilities is crucial. Our aim is to ensure that all senior citizens lead the happiest and most fulfilling lives in their later years. Seniors are never too old to learn new hobbies, and the benefits are supported by scientific evidence. Here’s how:

  • Roshan J Mundapallil, Sowmya Lakshmi

At the conclusion of each retirement lifestyle planning session, we administer a questionnaire that delves into hobbies, leisure, and volunteering, allowing for both objective and descriptive responses. Encountering blank columns wasn’t surprising for us as social gerontologists; it aligns with our expectations based on close observations of numerous senior lives. A significant number of pre-retirees lack hobbies and fail to recognise the intrinsic value they offer. The prevailing trend involves being excessively occupied with what are deemed ‘important’ tasks, often prioritising wealth pursuit over setting aside time for personal enrichment.

Perhaps, after hastening through 20 to 30 years, commuting to work with a sense of mandated responsibility and making a meaningful impact in roles like a teacher, doctor, engineer, nurse, or government servant, retirement brings a sudden shift. Yet, retirees may find themselves spending excessive time on unproductive daytime television. Initially tolerable, this inertia can lead to a sense of actions no longer benefiting anyone, including oneself, potentially causing feelings of depression over time.

We recently attended a passionate sermon by a pastor who urged the seniors in his church to embrace an exciting and adventurous life. Among his many suggestions were, “Why not indulge in a dinner at a luxury hotel? Explore exotic places, stay in a luxury resort. Why not drive to Mulbaghal for a taste of exotic dosa or drive down to Tumkur to relish the famous tatte iddali from Pavithra. All these years, you’ve worked for someone else; now is the time to enjoy the things you’ve been postponing.” The preacher encouraged his senior parishioners to adopt hobbies and engage in leisure activities. He emphasised the celebration of age and dispel the notion that ‘growing older’ should be a barrier to making the most of life by trying different things that add vibrancy to an otherwise mundane existence.

Over the past two decades, our studies and close engagement with seniors aim to reveal a different facet of growing older, urging individuals of all ages to reconsider common perceptions of later life. It goes beyond mere longevity; the focus is on living both healthily and happily for an extended duration. As social gerontologists, our goal is to maximise seniors’ fulfilment in life. That’s why, during pre-retirement sessions, we place a strong emphasis on retirement lifestyle, promoting abundant leisure and hobbies to enrich the newfound “free time.”

Regrettably, persistent inactivity can significantly impact a senior’s sense of purpose, eventually leading to depression, diminished cognitive abilities, and overall poor health. Some may resort to alcohol abuse or become ‘bad-tempered’ and cranky. To counteract this inertia and prevent such outcomes, the saying “You’re never too old to learn something new” holds true. We can recommend numerous activities for seniors to engage in, promoting happier and healthier lives. When life becomes overwhelming, these hobbies provide a perfect antidote, offering relaxation and mental well-being. Enjoying activities outside of work can be beneficial, reducing anxiety, lowering stress levels, and aiding in coping with depression.

My mother exemplifies how hobbies contribute to a happy and contented life in later years. At the age of 82, she’s passionately involved in poultry farming, albeit on a small scale and not for profit. Her collection includes nine geese, three pairs of guinea fowl, thirty hens, a few pairs of turkeys, ducks, parrots, and love birds – quite a handful. Every conversation with her revolves around her enthusiasm, and she delights in gifting eggs to friends and relatives who visit. Despite initial concerns about the workload, she reassures, “I’m just relaxing and doing something I enjoy without the pressures of the outside world. It keeps me occupied.”

An excellent incentive to pursue a hobby is to acquire knowledge, a lesson learned from my mother. She serves as an encyclopedia on bird rearing, with expertise ranging from the everyday care to various feeds, diseases, treatments, and insights into the local market and resource availability. Hobbies often impart valuable lessons that can positively influence your life. The knowledge acquired through a hobby becomes a lifelong asset, applicable whether you’re 55 or 85 years old.

Engaging in hobbies has the potential to expand your social circle and create mutual value. During my recent conversation with my mother, she shared that a group of college girls from a nearby women’s college visited her to learn about bird rearing. Some of them expressed interest in volunteering with her, eager to glean knowledge from her experience. This isn’t the first time her “poultry farm” has attracted visitors. Participating in hobbies with others enhances the enjoyment, fostering a sense of camaraderie with those who share your love and passion for the activity, thereby influencing your community interactions.

Choosing a hobby or engagement that brings you joy can significantly enhance your mood and cognitive skills, even in advanced age, particularly for seniors with extra free time. Regularly indulging in a hobby offers various mental and physical health benefits. When the monotony of daily routine sets in, discovering a new passion can elevate overall happiness and satisfaction with life.

After retiring from a multinational company, my 64-year-old friend embarked on constructing a home stay and organic farm in a hill station, a day’s journey from his permanent residence. Despite objections from everyone, including his elderly mother, he persevered, countering critics with, “There’s nothing like ‘old age’ as long as you’re healthy and alert. Accomplishing one’s passion is most important. I know everyone calls me a fool. It’s not about making money, and I’m least bothered. But no one can see the merits. The happiness and sense of accomplishment I feel are beyond anyone’s understanding.”

“I was going to start a hobby, but I somehow never get around to it,” “I don’t know how to choose it,” “I’m worried about the expenses involved,” “I’m interested, but my wife is against it.” Countless excuses. We often witness people engaging in cool activities like games, dancing, fishing, painting, music, and farming, yet many of us say, “I wish I could do that” and return to our dreary daily lives. The truth is, none of those people could do it until they decided to try. They all started by making it a part-time hobby, followed through, mastered it, and then it became a passion. Many of us deceive ourselves about why we can’t do the exciting things we see others doing. Everyone deserves a fulfilling hobby, especially seniors—it’s an act of self-care that enriches you as a person. So, stop making excuses and start making promises to yourself.

While we’ve emphasised the importance and benefits of having a hobby, not every hobby will suit you. The choice of a hobby is about your interests and what captures your imagination. It varies from person to person without a specific logic. Some physical activities you could consider include hiking (especially if you love the outdoors), dancing, exercising, yoga, and swimming. If physical activities don’t appeal to you, there are numerous other hobbies to explore.

In our exploration of hobbies and leisure activities, we discovered various pursuits among individuals. John, a retired regional manager of a nationalised bank, immersed himself in reading, amassing a collection of over 200 novels in both Malayalam and English. Satyan, a retiree from the state government, has dedicated himself to full-time gardening, specialising in orchids. Subramani, retired from the railways, delves into the spiritual world, traveling to different temples, studying their history, and compiling it. Ramadas developed a fondness for stray dogs and now feeds over 100 dogs in his neighbourhood. Babykutty, a former college basketball player and Tata retiree, provides free coaching to schools. Sera, a retired school teacher, spends her time baking and teaching others, contributing bread and cookies to three orphanages weekly.

Whether you enjoy reading, painting, mastering a new language, learning a new instrument, journaling, or gardening, it’s about what excites you the most. If you’re still struggling to choose a hobby, take some time to reflect on what draws you in. It’s never too late to pick up a new skill!

Curious about how to make the most of your “golden years”? Nowadays, retirees can anticipate a healthy life spanning two decades or more. Seize the opportunity by staying active and cultivating new hobbies or special interests. Many new retirees may not have previously explored particular interests, but don’t fret—it’s never too late to learn a new skill or delve into a passion that has always intrigued you. According to us, this new phase is the perfect time to pursue avenues that enrich the soul. As a retiree, with more time for yourself, make the most of it by exploring hobbies and interests to stay healthy and fulfilled.

Learn more about the numerous benefits of hobbies for seniors, and we hope you discover a great new hobby to try for yourself. Check out the list below:

Engaging in hobbies is a recognized way to alleviate stress. Immersing yourself in a hobby provides a healthy and productive means to divert your mind from everyday stressors, leaving negative emotions behind. While some may initially worry that adding another activity to their routine could increase stress, in reality, a hobby often has the opposite effect. Over time, a hobby seamlessly becomes a part of your life that you cannot easily separate from.

Hobbies offer a sense of accomplishment, breaking the monotony of a daily routine. Introducing a new hobby not only takes you out of your comfort zone but also allows you to acquire new skills. The results achieved during these hobby pursuits create a tangible sense of accomplishment. Hobbyists often take pride in showcasing their achievements once they complete their tasks.

Did you know that incorporating more activity into your daily life can significantly boost your immune system? Beyond the physical benefits, engaging in hobbies, especially those involving ample physical activity, can contribute to maintaining or preventing chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and certain types of cancer. It’s a proactive approach to enhancing overall well-being.

Enhance your immune system by consistently engaging in physical activities such as walking, biking, or yoga. These activities not only improve your overall quality of life but also contribute to increased longevity. It’s not limited to physical hobbies; even pursuits like stamp collection, numismatics, or sketching can enhance psychological well-being, positively impacting your immune system. Seniors concerned about meeting the demands of more physical hobbies should know that almost every activity can be modified to accommodate different skill levels and physical abilities.

Don’t let the fear of the ‘unknown’ hinder you from trying new hobbies. Jagannathan learned swimming at the age of 68 when he relocated to a high-end gated property in Kerala. Seetharam took up playing shuttle after a 30-plus-year hiatus at the same age. Jonny, a former football player, started playing with young college boys, his grandchildren’s age, after retiring from Kuwait Oil Company (KOC). Age is no barrier.

Unearth your hidden talents. Often, in our early adult years, our focus is on raising families and advancing in our careers, leaving little time to explore new things. Many wrongly believe they lack capabilities or talents, but everyone possesses hidden talents they haven’t nurtured due to fear of failure. Some secretly think they could have excelled as a cook, caricaturist, or champion chess or tennis player if only they had time. Whatever the case, you won’t truly know your capabilities until you try new things. Patience and perseverance are essential to starting a hobby. Activities like bird watching, geocaching, and gardening bring seniors closer to nature, offering physical benefits without requiring specific talents. Taking up a new hobby is a sure way to embark on the path of self-discovery. Explore Additional Income Opportunities. Yes, it’s feasible to generate extra income from your hobby. Sera, for instance, earns income by teaching baking and also engages in charity. While my mother could sell eggs and chicks, she prefers giving them to relatives and friends. If increasing income isn’t your priority, consider using your newfound talent to strengthen relationships, much like my old mother does.

It’s not uncommon for individuals to turn a mastered hobby into a business, creating an additional source of income without adding stress. Take gardening as an example. If you have a green thumb, growing melons and selling them at local farmers’ markets or fairs could be a viable option. I recently met a retired school teacher who became a renowned terrace farming specialist. Excelling in terrace gardening, he now offers expertise to people from distant places, serving as a gardening consultant for friends, family, and fellow seniors. It’s a fantastic way to continue doing what you love while earning extra cash on the side.

Embark on a Spiritual Journey. Not all retirements are peaceful, and worries can disrupt a smooth transition. Many turn to spirituality as a coping mechanism. Nourishing your spiritual side, as important as caring for your physical body, involves practices like religious rituals, meditation, and gratitude rituals. Some become more active in temple and church activities. Dr. Sateesh, a retired neurosurgeon, now conducts bhajans in various temples as part of his spiritual engagement. Discovering a hobby that aligns with your own form of spiritual practice and creativity can contribute significantly to your spiritual growth.

Facilitates a Seamless Transition to Retirement. The prospect of retiring after dedicating decades to a job can be daunting. However, by engaging in a hobby or two, you’ll discover that the anxiety about finding purpose in your post-retirement life diminishes. A passionate hobby provides a life outside of your work and family responsibilities, making the transition into retirement smoother.

Regardless of the chosen hobby, dedicating time in your life to an activity solely for your happiness enriches your life in various ways. Disregard the old adage, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” While it may not be a walk in the park, the results have a protective effect on cognitive health – all the more reason for seniors to explore something new!