When she moved from the center of Madrid to Mostoles, the first thing Cristina Gil, 73, did was go to the senior center. She didn’t know anyone in the neighborhood and she had free time, so she decided to fill her routine with activities. “Now I’m starting theater, I’ve been doing it for a year and a bit. I also do mindfulness and stretches. “This year I signed up for line dancing,” he says on the phone. Every week he goes to the movies and occasionally to the theater. A meta-analysis published this Monday by the magazine Nature Medicine ensures that this attitude is positive: cultivating hobbies improves happiness and quality of life after 65 years. “It’s a reality like a castle,” Gil emphasizes, pulling not so much from science as from personal experience. “When I got here I felt alone and bad, now I have made a group of friends, all in my situation, and I am very well”.
“Hobbies may have the potential to protect against age-related declines in mental health and improvements in well-being,” Karen Mak, a statistical researcher at University College London and co-author of the study, explains by email. “And this has profound consequences for morbidity and mortality,” she adds. These conclusions confirm an idea that scientific literature has been pointing out for years. It is the magnitude of its database and the transversality of its conclusions that makes this study special. And the differences between countries.
The meta-analysis has analyzed five studies, with data from 93,263 people from 16 different countries. And he points out that Cristina’s case may be ideal, but it is not so common in Spain. Only 51% of Spaniards over 65 years of age have a hobby, the lowest percentage of the countries analyzed, only ahead of China (although in this case there is a trick, since there they only asked about social hobbies, discarding the more solitary ones). Denmark (96%), Sweden (95.8%) and Switzerland (94.4%) recorded the highest levels of retirees with hobbies, followed by Germany (91%), Austria and Japan (90%). At the other end of the table, Italy (54%), Spain (51%) and China (37.6%) present the lowest levels.
The study notes that people who live in countries with longer life expectancy or higher levels of happiness “may be more likely to have a hobby,” using Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland as examples. According to the latest data from Eurostat, Spain is the country in the European Union with the highest life expectancy. “There are many possible reasons that explain this lower percentage of hobbies,” explains Professor Mak: “The democracy index, the social spending index, GDP per capita, inequalities, social policy”. All the data from the European countries come from the same study, the Survey on Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe, so there would be no methodological discordance. In Spain the data is lower by an overwhelming percentage, and the study itself encourages countries to take averages. “Guarantee access to hobbies “It should be a priority to promote healthy aging,” he points out.
When an older person decides to cultivate a hobby, there are other conditions, beyond the countries. Mak points out, at the community level, “neighborhood safety, social connectivity, and social relationships.” At the individual level, people with certain demographics may be less likely to maintain that habit: “For example, men, people with lower educational and economic levels.”
Cristina Gil is a woman. Middle class. She assures that her neighborhood of Mostoles is “happy and safe.” She highlights that her discounts at the movies and her senior centers have made it easier for her to practice her hobbies. She meets, one by one, the conditions that Mak points out. But her case barely represents half of those over 65 years of age in our country.
Oil paintings by reeds
The barriers that limit people’s leisure behaviors can be varied, but once overcome, the beneficial effects are evident. And here there are no big differences between countries. “Although people living in Spain have a comparatively lower rate of hobby, the association between hobby and life satisfaction here is similar to that of countries with much higher rates of hobby such as Austria, the Czech Republic and Switzerland” , details the study.
“The truth is that the data from Spain have surprised me a lot,” Bryan Strange, director of the Clinical Neuroscience Laboratory at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, admitted on the phone. Strange is British and has been living in Madrid for 10 years. He admits that it may be a personal bias, but he has always thought that the elderly in Spain have a very active social life. “Maybe it has something to do with the way we socialize,” he reflects. “A hobby It is not the most accurate word to classify what an elderly person does in Spain. The simple fact of being with family, of going to the bar, does not count as hobbybut it is something social.”
Gil answers questions from EL PAIS while having chocolate with churros for breakfast with his theater friends. “We do it very often,” he admits. “After the rehearsal, we ended up having a beer all together, chatting. When we go to see exhibitions, we go out to eat. We socialize a lot in bars, really, ”he sums up.
Time and character may have made Mediterranean countries change painting classes for a beer in the bar. But this can have equally positive effects. “Ultimately it’s about staying active and maintaining social relationships,” says Strange.
The expert evaluates the study positively, assures that its data are “interesting, but not surprising” and points out that in any case they are observational. “That means that causality cannot be ascertained,” he points out. “Maybe the person who is well is more motivated to do things. the same is not him hobby the one that changes mental health, but good mental health that leads to having a hobby“, Add.
In any case, Strange points out that staying active and cultivating hobbies is important “not only when you are older, but also in middle age.” He participated in a study on so-called superagers or super-elderly, people who at 80 years old maintain a memory typical of people of 50. And among the conclusions they reached, they pointed out that having a purpose or a driving force in life helps. “One of the factors that predict becoming a super-elderly is having been very active at this time, from 40 to 50 years old. Having hobbies is good and maintaining them throughout life is necessary. Because when we are young it is easy, but then you have more commitments with your time, between work and family.”
The growing aging of the population represents a challenge for global health. As life expectancy lengthens, mechanisms are also being sought to improve its quality. Some go through something as simple as promoting hobbies and socializing. This study has attempted to put the different realities of 16 nations in context. In all of them the benefits of hobbies are the same, since this is something that transcends the sociocultural context. But not all countries give them the same importance.
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Source: EL PAIS