Model Railways: the perfect hobby for retirement

An older man relaxing and playing with model trainsAs the golden year’s approach and the hustle of a 9-to-5 fades into the horizon, many retirees find themselves searching for a hobby that’s both fulfilling and mentally stimulating.

Enter the world of model railways—a pastime that promises not only hours of entertainment but a plethora of mental and psychological benefits and a ticket to a healthier, happier retirement.

Perhaps that’s why a survey of railway modellers recently carried out here on ModelRailwayEngineer, found over 55% were over 55.

Mental and psychological benefits of model railways for retirees

Here are eight reasons why its the perfect hobby.

1. Keeping the brain on track

Setting up these intricate railways isn’t just about laying down tracks. It’s a mental workout—problem-solving, planning, and getting those creative juices flowing. And guess what? Keeping our brains active and engaged, especially as we age, is crucial. A study in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences revealed that hobbies not only boost brain health and even ward off Alzheimer’s.

2. Sensory delight with model trains

There’s something inherently calming about watching a miniature train glide smoothly along its tracks. The repetitive sounds and motions can have a meditative effect, akin to mindfulness practices known to reduce stress. And it’s not just me. A study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that hobbies we love can lower blood pressure, reduce cortisol levels while the journal Arts & Health, found that engaging in creative arts hobbies can help to improve cognitive function and memory.

This was one a benefit highlighted when the 10,000 strong ModelRailwayEngineer community was asked, with comments including ‘working on my railway a great way to switching off my mind and being able to reset’ and ‘stepping into my railway room just takes everything unwanted away’.

3. Hands on fun

Handling tiny components, setting up tracks, and painting miniature landscapes can be a gentle yet effective way to keep our hands agile. And engaging in activities that require fine motor skills, as per the Journal of Gerontology, can help maintain hand-eye coordination and dexterity, which often decline with age.

4. Social connection

Model railway clubs and exhibitions offer a wonderful opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals. Social interaction is a known buffer against depression and loneliness, common concerns in retirement. The Journal of Aging and Health highlights the positive correlation between social engagement and a slower decline in cognitive function among older adults.

5. The joy of continuous discovery

The world of model railways is vast, with constantly evolving technologies, techniques, and historical contexts to explore. Researching historical backgrounds for a train line or local being modelled is one of the elements of the hobby I most enjoy. And sure enough continuous learning can be deeply satisfying and, as the Journal of Adult Development points out, engaging in lifelong learning can boost self-esteem and overall life satisfaction among seniors.

6. The mindful activity of modelling

Engaging in the repetitive tasks intrinsic to model railways and model making can act as a form of mindfulness meditation. Such hands-on work focuses one on the present, allowing other concerns to momentarily fade. This form of mindfulness, according to Creswell in the Annual Review of Psychology, can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. The comforting rhythm and predictability of these tasks offer emotional stability, especially beneficial during life’s uncertain phases.

7. Building more than just tracks

Building a model railway offers a project with tangible goals. While no model railway is ever truly finished 🙂 recreating a historic railway line, model of a building or designing a fictional landscape takes focus and the sense fo achievement when completed is hard to beat. And having a sense of purpose and a project to work towards can provide direction and meaning, essential components for a fulfilling retirement, as noted in the Journal of Positive Psychology.

8. Staying active with model railways

Although it might not seem strenuous, setting up and maintaining a model railway can involve a good deal of movement, such as bending, reaching, and lifting. Especially during the early stages of a layouts construction. For larger setups, walking around to different parts of the display can add up, providing mild aerobic exercise. Engaging in this hobby naturally reduces the time spent sitting continuously. Breaking up long periods of sitting can have various health benefits, including reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Conclusion: model railways entertain and enrich

Retirement is a time for relaxation, reflection, and, most importantly, rediscovery. It’s the perfect phase to dive into a hobby that not only entertains but enriches. Model railways, with their myriad benefits, emerge as an ideal companion for this journey, promising both joy and well-being on the track ahead.


1. Wilson, R. S., et al. (2007). Cognitive activity and incident AD in a population-based sample of older persons. Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.
2. Hobbies and cognitive function in older adults: A systematic review, 2019. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.
3. Seidler, R. D., et al. (2010). Motor control and aging: Links to age-related brain structural, functional, and biochemical effects. Journal of Gerontology.
4. James, B. D., et al. (2011). Late-life social activity and cognitive decline in old age. Journal of Aging and Health.
5. Journal of Adult Development, April 2010.
6. Creswell, J. D. (2017). Mindfulness interventions. Annual Review of Psychology, 68, 491-516.
7. Steger, M. F., et al. (2009). Meaning in life. Journal of Positive Psychology.


  • Rather than plaster some gentleman’s photo all over the web and destroy the little relaxation he’s gained from model railways, the photo above was created by AI – chat gpt. 🙂


Footnote: This article has undergone review and fact-checking to ensure its accuracy. It has also been edited for clarity and to ensure the information is up to date and reviews the latest models as of November 2023. Your insights are crucial—should you spot any inaccuracies or have suggestions, please contact me. I welcome your questions, feedback, or personal stories. Please get in contact in a comment below or via my contact page


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Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.

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