Sometimes, it can be easy to become set in our ways. We fall into routine and forget about the benefits of stretching ourselves outside of our comfort zone. As we age, it’s especially important that we don’t forget to explore new things and stay engaged. Hobbies aren’t just a way to fill time—they can have major benefits for our physical and mental health.

video games
Video games can be a divisive topic. You’ve no doubt heard arguments that they discourage physical activity or even “rot the brain.” However, not all those criticisms are warranted. Research has shown that video games can actually have a positive impact on the cognitive function of older adults. A study done by the University of Utah found that around 60% to 70% of seniors who did not benefit from antidepressants experienced a 50% decrease in their depressive symptoms within 30 days of starting a video game-based treatment program. There also is evidence that playing video games may be linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study conducted in 2017.

The mental health benefits of video games are believed to be for a variety of reasons. They offer mental stimulation, making players analyze situations quickly and strategize. Switching between tasks can increase mental flexibility and the ability to multitask. They also provide a sense of accomplishment as games offer attainable goals. On the other hand, losing at video games can help build emotional resilience. Online or multiplayer video games also can help reduce isolation, allowing people to connect with others.

Yoga is another hobby that research has shown can have big benefits for seniors. As we age, we naturally lose bone density. Research has consistently shown that as a weight-bearing activity, yoga helps slow bone thinning, reducing the risks of osteoporosis, particularly among postmenopausal women. It also can help improve your joint health, protecting you from disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis. Falls are another serious issue that older adults face—according to AARP, they’re the leading case of injury, with a senior visiting an emergency room for fall-related treatment every 11 seconds. With its slow, measured movements and strength-building component, yoga helps improve balance, tone muscle and increase proprioception, or awareness of position in space.

Along with physical benefits, yoga can help improve mental health. Studies have shown that regularly practicing yoga can lead to reduced anxiety. It induces a relaxation response that reduces your heart rate, lowers blood pressure and eases respiration. This can help moderate your body’s response to stress. Yoga also can improve cognitive function. Studies have shown that it has a greater impact on enhancing mood than other forms of exercise thanks to a boost in the production of the brain chemical GABA, which helps calm nerves.

Thanks to smartphones, photography is one of the most accessible forms of art—we carry a camera around with us all of the time! Creative expression is great for physical and mental wellbeing. Research indicates that it offers aging adults a sense of purpose, while helping maintain concentration, improving coordination and boosting mood. Creating art as part of a community through clubs or classes also is a great way to combat the increased isolation that can accompany our later years.

Photography in particular often gets you out of your home and into nature, encouraging physical activity. It also comes with the bonus of capturing memories, and it can aid in your cognitive health in several ways. Not only can it be enjoyable to look back at photos you’ve taken, reviewing them can help combat cognitive decline and aid in recollection. Additionally, learning new skills and mastering techniques can strengthen abilities like memory and focus.