Tap into earlier passions for health benefits
August 22, 2011
By BONNIE KANTOR-BURMAN, Ohio Department of Aging Director I am surrounded by puzzles from my younger days. Literally. Close to 20 framed jigsaw puzzles grace the walls of my office. I completed them with my family more than 25 years ago when my daughters were little girls. My youngest had trouble with her eyesight, and we used the puzzles as a form of therapy. Of course, she was unaware of their utility; she just knew we were having fun together. As adults, I know they look back on this activity nearly as fondly as I do. Last week, I reflected on how much I enjoyed working on them and remembered how I used to be positively gleeful when I found a piece - especially the one that others had searched for. So, I decided to take up the hobby again and bought my first new puzzle in 25 years. But, this time was different. As I sorted the pieces and started to create the scene I saw on the box top, I realized I was now the one who couldn’t see the pieces very well. I tried to convince my family that the puzzle was defective and that we needed to return it. After they stopped laughing they let me know that they could see the pieces just fine and that perhaps I might consider an eye exam! And so, off to the eye doctor I went and sure enough, I am now the proud owner of new glasses with a stronger prescription. I was also glad that I listened to my youngest daughter (who now has two children of her own!) and opted for a 500 piece puzzle instead of the 1,000 piece masterpieces my family used to take on. And so, I am learning that I can still do things that brought me joy when I was younger. I just may have to go at it from a slightly different angle. And yes, I’m nervous about starting again, but I simply can’t wait for this weekend when I can really dig in. Now that I have started my new puzzle craze, I’ve started wondering why it took me so long to reconnect with a hobby that brought me such joy. I think that one of the things we leave by the side of the road as we grow up and assume all of our adult responsibilities is doing something for the plain joy of doing it. We become too busy; we have obligations and “more productive” things to do. It seems almost selfish to do something just because it brings us happiness. But now we know that having fun and taking time to enjoy a hobby is actually good for your heart, mind and soul. Research shows people who engage in activities they relish and exercise their minds and bodies are generally healthier than people who don’t. According to Peter Lichtenberg, Ph.D., director of the Institute of Gerontology at Wayne State University, people who have a hobby they enjoy: ? Reduce their stress levels; ? Stay engaged on multiple levels and connected to other people; ? Feel improved self-worth and a greater sense of accomplishment; ? Increase their attention spans and improve decision-making skills; ? Are at a lower risk for depression; ? Delay the onset of certain chronic diseases and lessen the symptoms of others; and ? Delay the onset of dementia. Like me, the first time you revisit an old activity, you may find it’s not as easy as it used to be or you aren’t as good at it as you remember. If an activity you used to do easily now seems difficult, you may have to change your approach. Before you start, or re-start, an activity: ? Talk to your doctor or health care professional. In my case, it was the eye doctor. Get medical clearance and ask if there are any activities you should avoid. ? Consider how a health issue might affect your activity. For example, someone with diabetes may need to adjust the timing of medication and meal plans when setting up an exercise schedule. ? Start slow. You can over-do and actually hurt yourself if you go “all out” the first time you try something. Instead, build up your activity little by little. ? Recognize problems. If something feels wrong, just stop. You are supposed to be having fun, after all. You may still have the physical ability, but have lost some of the skill you once had. You may have success when you take up an old endeavor again, but you also may falter. But that is ok. Honest. Part of learning and growing is making mistakes and benefiting from them. The first time you tried to drive, were you an expert or did you hop a curb or two? Remember, if you can’t laugh at yourself, you are missing a great source of amusement. Perhaps your challenge lies not in revisiting old hobbies, but in trying something new. What have you always wanted to try, but just never did? If you had no limitations, if absolutely nothing stood in your way, what would you really want to do? If you’re looking for ideas, or just need to know where to start, check out your local senior center or public library. Ask your friends or family. Talk to people. Everyone loves to give advice. You will learn something and interact with some very interesting people. This weekend, I am going to work on my jigsaw puzzle and enjoy myself. Here’s hoping that you, too, will find a way to place another piece in this puzzle we call life.