Everyone would likely agree that it’s important to take up a hobby or two. They offer a wonderful opportunity to escape from the pressures of work and even those at home. What are you doing with that “me” time? Is it something that is providing you with additional benefits outside of the hobby itself? Take spectator sports. They are awesome to watch and I do take the time like millions of others to sit on the couch and watch football, basketball, baseball and golf. It’s relaxing, fun and a fabulous diversion for me. I will continue to do it, but this is not a hobby that will deliver benefits beyond the time I have spent watching these sports.

Consider picking up a hobby that will provide added benefits to your work and personal life. There are so many of these hobbies to choose from; let’s take a look at a handful of them:


We all know that exercise is great for us physically. If you’re not a “gym” person, try a brisk two-mile walk several days a week. This not only supports cardiovascular health, but it is also a great way to exercise your mind. Research in neuroscience has shown that cardiovascular exercise improves cognition and mental performance. It will contribute to a sharper brain that will benefit you personally and professionally in your career.


Reading is a phenomenal brain exercise. Even if you are reading a novel, you are providing a great deal more benefit to your brain than watching television. Now think about reading something that will make you a worldlier person. I always tell my business school students that they should read the Wall Street Journal or the Financial Times, in addition to The Washington Post (or their local newspaper). The more you know about current events in the country and world we live in, the smarter you will be. This includes business, government, politics, etc. Another great genre to read is history. Understanding history makes you smarter and it is a fascinating pastime that is great for feeding your brain.

Embrace mindfulness and meditation

More and more companies are embracing the practice of mindfulness to make their people better. Just over a year ago, Aetna appointed a chief mindfulness officer. UCLA has a Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. At the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, we teach mindfulness in our Executive MBA program. The idea is that a healthy mind is a better mind. It keeps you fresh and at the same time, enables you to be a better performer. Mindfulness is about learning to staying present and in the moment without all of the internal chatter that interferes with your thought process. It actually helps you see new things and enhance your engagement. There is a great deal of information on mindfulness. Here in the Washington, D.C. area, I recommend checking out The Mindfulness Center.

Learn a new language

There are great programs for learning a new language. Two that come to mind are Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone. Becoming multilingual not only stimulates your brain, but it can also make you more valuable to your company, particularly if it is a multinational organization. It’s a great feeling to visit a foreign country and try to speak the local language. What is your family’s heritage? You may want to learn a language spoken by your ancestors. Maybe you are friendly with or live near people who speak a foreign language. Make an effort to learn that language and practice with them.

Learn to play a musical instrument

In a sense, learning to play a musical instrument is much like learning a new language. Just like learning a foreign language, learning how to play a musical instrument is also about practicing to acquire new skills you can enjoy for years to come. Music is a fantastic form of expression and release, while stimulating your brain and making you smarter. There are great online programs where you can learn to play the guitar, piano, harmonica and other instruments.

Take a class

Taking courses of interest to you from your own home is easy and free. Check out a Massive Open Online Course, known as a MOOC. There are several platforms that offer MOOCs; Coursera (coursera.org) and edX (edx.org) are good places to start. You can take a course from top universities from around the world at no cost to you, or pay a minimal fee and receive a certificate upon completion. You may want to choose something you find interesting outside of your line of work. For example, you may be an accountant, but have an interest in psychology or criminology. The key is to never stop learning to keep your mind in great shape.

These are just a few options, but there are certainly many more. Just choose a hobby that will help you exercise your mind and increase your knowledge base while offering enjoyment.

Gary A. Cohen is associate dean of the Office of Executive Programs at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. He is a certified executive coach and prior to joining the faculty at Smith, he had a successful 30-year corporate career, with the last 15 as a senior executive. He can be reached at gcohen@rhsmith.umd.edu, @gary_a_cohen, and on LinkedIn.