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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Are hobbies the best medicine?

24 November 2020

Research tends to indicate that those of us who have hobbies do much better when facing the effects of time on our physical and mental abilities.

Those who exercise their brain and their muscles are far better able to enjoy their twilight years thanks to a reduced incidence of age-related conditions such as dementia and general physical decline.

With this in mind, not having a hobby does not bode well for anyone's retirement -- so what would be the best hobby to have in 2021 and beyond?

What activities will stimulate both mind and body whilst providing a satisfying sense of challenge and achievement?

Just as importantly, what hobbies are "sensible" in the face of a pandemic which may continue to ravage the earth's population for at least another year?

Traditional hobbies such as stamp collecting, model trains, painting and such probably still hold huge appeal for the older generations, but what about the rest of the population?

I find it hard to believe that collecting stamps has much of a future -- as we leave behind the concept of making inky stains on pulverized tree-flesh and then placing it in a jacket of even more dead tree before affixing a little picture-square to it that indicates the delivery fee has been paid. In fact, in ten year's time, will stamps even be "a thing"?

Chances are that stamps will be a great investment, since there'll be so few (if any) of them being printed -- but they probably won't be the basis for an affordable hobby any longer.

Model trains?

Well I guess there'll always be those who are fascinated by such things... but again, the magic and mystery of trains sort of disappeared (at least for me) when the steam age died. Modern trains are either electric or diesel electric and simply do not have the aura of mystery nor do they stimulate the senses in the way that steam locomotives did more than half a century ago.

From a young person's perspective, I also suspect that watching some tiny trains travel around a fixed track in someone's basement isn't nearly as appealing as the fun that is to be had with the latest Playstation 5.

There is, of course, the healthy outdoor pursuits of hiking and tramping but my goodness, why would you do that when you can simply crash on the sofa and watch Netflix? Thanks to the wonders of 4K HDR TV sets and streaming services, you can take a virtual hike through just about any forest on the planet -- whilst enjoying a bag of chips and your favourite sugary beverage on that sofa.

Model aircraft anyone?

Nope, I probably wouldn't recommend it... if you want to stay clear of endless rules, regulations and the risk of very stiff fines. In the name of "safety", model aircraft (known to regulators as RPAS -- that's "drones" to the great unwashed) are being regulated out of existance as an accessible hobby for most kids and many adults.

Despite the fact that it ticks an awful lot of boxes in the "desirable" column of the perfect hobby it has just become too hard and risky. If the old lady down the road doesn't accuse you of trying to spy on her, the local council will probably fine you for endangering its valuable grass on the local sportsfield.

So what else is there?

Gardening?

Yep, perhaps one of the reasons that so many old-folk find a passion for gardening is that it can be modestly demanding from a physical perspective, it has great challenges and the rewards can be many. It can also be quite cheap if you recycle by way of the compost heap and swap cuttings/seedlings with friends. There's also the bonus that a well-kept garden increases the value of your home.

Unfortunately I suspect it's not so easy to get kids involved in gardening.

Why?

Well everything happens so damned slowly.

I recall that as a young person, I had little patience when it came to waiting for things to happen. Even the 20 minutes or so it took for the glue to dry on my model aircraft seemed like an age and was the worst part of the hobby. You can imagine how difficult it would be to wait days or even weeks for seeds to germinate and then more weeks or years before plants grew into their full glory.

Yep, it would be a hard-sell trying to get kids into gardening.

So, outside of the XBox/PS5 or computer gaming, what would be the hobby you'd recommend to parents who are trying to get their kids out of the house, enthused about learning and focused on spending their spare time productively?

What hobbies would be the best way to start a life-long interest in something that may eventually go on to extend a kid's health and wellbeing well into their old age?

The floor, ladies and gentlemen, is yours...

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