Drinking heavily or using drugs takes a lot of time and energy. Once you’re in recovery, you’ll likely have a big void in your life. Finding positive activities to fill the empty hours is key to not only a successful recovery, but also a healthier, happier life. Hobbies — from rock climbing to antique collecting — are a great way to have fun and distract yourself from cravings. Plus, hobbies can have other physical and mental health benefits, such as helping you relax, exercising your body or mind, and forging new friendships that don’t revolve around alcohol or drugs.
The Healing Power of Hobbies
Studies have shown that participating in hobbies and other fun leisure pastimes is associated with better health. The health benefits of having a hobby include:
- Enhanced sense of well-being
- Less depression
- Lower blood pressure
- Decreased body fat
- Reduced risk for dementia in later life
When you’re recovering from an addiction, there may be other benefits as well. Hobbies help fend off stress and boredom, and they can give you a sense of purpose. As a result, they may reduce your risk of relapse. A word to the wise: It’s possible to go overboard, becoming so obsessed with a hobby that it starts interfering with the rest of your life. For example, you might spend so much time on a hobby that you slack off at work or neglect your family and friends. Or you might spend so much money on your hobby that you get into a financial bind. As with so many things in life, moderation is important.
Which Hobby Is Right for You?
The list of potential hobbies is long, from amateur acting to zither playing. Pick an activity that genuinely fascinates you. Better yet, pick three or four hobbies so you can broaden your mind with a wider range of experiences. Emphasize active rather than passive participation. For example, reading a novel is preferable to watching TV because reading requires you to be more mentally active. And discussing the novel at a book club meeting is even better because it gives you a chance to not only flex your mental muscles, but also meet new friends. Need some inspiration? Here are four hobbies with proven benefits for mind and body:
- Hit the trail. Physical activities such as cycling, hiking, running, shooting hoops or playing tennis are great for your overall health. They help boost your mood, control your weight and strengthen your muscles and bones. They also reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and colon and breast cancer. Plus, emerging evidence shows that exercise may reduce the reinforcing effects of addictive drugs, which may be beneficial for combatting addiction and preventing relapse.
All these benefits add up. In a study from the National Cancer Institute, researchers pooled data from more than 650,000 adults. The more leisure-time exercise people got, the longer their life expectancy. The most active group, who got at least an hour per day of moderate exercise, added four years to their lives on average.
- Unroll a yoga mat. In a typical yoga class, you not only challenge your body with a series of poses. You also calm your mind with meditation. As a result, this mind-body workout not only builds strength and flexibility, but also helps relieve stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia.
In addition, practicing yoga helps develop mindfulness — a mental state that involves focusing awareness on moment-to-moment sensations and emotions without judging or getting hung up on them. There’s growing evidence that mindfulness can help people who are recovering from addiction cope with drug cravings and difficult emotions.
- Open a sketchbook. Drawing, painting, sculpting and other visual arts offer a way to express feelings that might be difficult to put into words. Having an outlet for self-expression may ease stress and anxiety. Research shows that making art also nurtures creativity, relaxation, learning and a sense of being in control. And the benefits may last long after the sketch pencils have been put away. One study showed that employees who engaged more often in creative hobbies tended to also rate higher in job creativity.
For people recovering from addiction, creating art can be a healthy way of dealing with difficult feelings and experiences. A recent survey of 299 substance-abuse treatment programs across the United States found that 37% offer some form of art therapy.
- Solve a puzzle. Mentally stimulating hobbies — such as solving crossword or Sudoku puzzles, playing chess or cards, reading or writing — help keep your mind sharp at any age. As you get older, research suggests that such hobbies may help protect your brain against cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. One study of middle-aged adults with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease found that solving puzzles and playing games was associated with having better memory and cognitive skills.
Alcohol and drug abuse affect how the brain works. Even after quitting drinking or using drugs, many people experience forgetfulness, trouble staying focused and “brain fog.” But with time and continued abstinence, the brain begins to heal. Experts often recommend exercising your mind — for example, by doing puzzles — to help the process along.
Share Your Hobby With Others
Whatever your hobby, consider taking a class or joining a group devoted to your interest. Whether you’re into cooking vegetarian dinners, volunteering at the food bank or finally writing your novel, it’s always a pleasure to meet people who share your passion. By Linda Wasmer Andrews Follow Linda on Twitter @ lindawandrews