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Living a Passionate Life

WebMD Feature from "Country Living" Magazine

By Maggy Howe; photographed by Burcu Avsar

Country Living Magazine

Hobbies add meaning to our lives — and may even help us live longer.

Have you ever become so involved in an activity that you lost all sense of time, worries wilted away, and stress disappeared? If so, you were probably either in love or immersed in a keen interest — a passion or hobby that helped you to get outside yourself. Such idealized moments are available to each of us. All we need to do is engage ourselves in a pastime and stay involved. Whether volunteering at a local hospital, growing heirloom roses, singing in a choir, or collecting stamps postmarked from post offices all across the country, passionate pursuits not only benefit the people who pursue them, but also those around them. Passions are contagious — they have a way of rousing even the most languid souls.

Every hobby teaches you something, says Susan Sheehan, author of The Banana Sculptor, the Purple Lady , and the All-Night Swimmer: Hobbies, Collecting, and Other Passionate Pursuits (Simon & Schuster; 2002). In the book, Sheehan and coauthor Howard Means describe hobbyists and collectors all across the United States and how their pursuits benefit them. Often a hobby is what gives someone self-definition: "It's what gives her focus," says Sheehan, who notes that people who are engrossed in such pursuits are often easy to talk to, as well. "Their horizons have been broadened by their pastime and some have enjoyed extraordinary adventures."

Pile of Yarn

Sheehan recalls a young man in the insurance business who loved to canoe in the Arctic wilderness every summer. His year was spent planning for his trip and getting in shape for the adventure. His hobby enriched his spirit immensely, Sheehan points out. Another woman she interviewed held a record for having won more than 3,000 ribbons for baking at the Iowa State Fair. "She is from a very small town and her accomplishments continue to broaden her life," Sheehan says. A Minnesota pickle company eventually put the woman's picture on the label of one of its lines of pickles, and even sent her on a pickle tour in the Midwest.

Dr. Walter Bortz, an associate clinical professor of medicine at Stanford University, in Stanford, Calif., and author of Dare to Be 100 (Simon & Schuster; 1996), found that elderly patients who were active led more fulfilling, healthier lives than patients who weren't. Although Bortz doesn't know of any hard data confirming that stamp collectors, for instance, live longer, he is confident that this is true. "People who stay involved have a tendency to live longer, as they have more reasons to get out of bed in the morning," Bortz says. "Their interests stimulate their brains and this gets their bodies moving." He asserts that the brain, just like the muscles in our bodies, needs exercise — especially once aging begins and movement slows.

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