Hobbies help us slow down and take the time out of our busy lives we need to stay healthy and happy. Choose one of these pastimes and discover a wealth of benefits, from making new friends to improving your health and keeping your mind sharp.
A picture paints a thousand words, so the saying goes, and photography is a great way to find your creative voice. Whether you take pictures of your family, pets, or even your garden scenery, capturing memories is a great way to get active and increase happiness. You don’t even have to buy a camera to get started – nearly all smartphones have excellent cameras and
you (mostly) always have one with you, so start looking at life through a lens.
“Dancing didn’t just change my life, it was my life,” says former Strictly star Camilla Dallerup. “It was my constant – the one thing I could count on, no matter how I felt or whatever pain, breakups, sadness or stress I was going through. It lifts me up, changes my mood and connects me to my body. Dancing is freedom, expression and meditation all rolled into one, and of course, it’s an amazing way to exercise. It taught me to connect to a strength and confidence within I didn’t even know I had. When you begin to dance you learn to tell a story through the steps – it makes you very aware of the importance of body language and how we don’t always need words to understand each other because dance has its own voice.”
If you’re looking for a new way to relax, knitting or crochet could be the hobby for you. Repeating the same action can have a meditative effect and is a great stress reliever. In fact, in a study by Cardiff University, 81 percent of participants felt happier after knitting. Getting into a rhythm can alleviate feelings of depression and anxiety too, as well as improving your motor skills. Joining a virtual knitting or crochet group such as Let’s Knit Together is also great for expanding your social circle. There are lots of charities you can knit for too – check out knitforlife.co.uk for a list of causes that need hand-made items.
“Meditation is like going to the mental gym,” says mindfulness expert Palma Michel (palmamichel.com). “Neuroscience tells us that we can change our brain for the better through daily meditation exercise. When we meditate, we strengthen our attention muscle, improve our impulse control (very handy when it comes to not having that extra piece of cake or not checking Instagram for the 50th time) and we also become more resilient. When we sit in meditation, we are confronted with our whole selves, including our busy minds and restless bodies. Meditation helps to cultivate a non-judgemental attitude – we are not only increasing our own self-awareness (which is the first step to self-mastery), but we also learn to accept others. Step back beyond the busyness of your mind to gain perspective and discover how to remain balanced and equanimous in the face of adversity.”
Did you know that gardening can burn up to 400 calories an hour and give you a full-body workout. It’s great for the mind too – research by Thrive (thrive.org.uk) shows that gardening improves communication, teaches new practical skills and improves confidence and concentration. If you still want to feel the calming and relaxing effects of nurturing plants but don’t have much space, start small with some gorgeous (and on-trend) house varieties – they’re easy to look after, help purify the air and will brighten up any room.
Putting pen to paper is one of the most therapeutic pastimes. It may have been a long while since you kept a diary but your teenage self was on to something - recording your daily
thoughts can bring some great benefits. A study by psychology professor Nancy Digdon showed that writing in a gratitude journal for 15 minutes each evening helped participants worry less and sleep better – and for longer. Try keeping a diary by your bed to maintain the habit.
Learning to enjoy cooking could be one of the most beneficial hobbies you ever start. Increasing your knowledge of ingredients and preparing a meal that is nutritious and tasty will not only be very satisfying, but it could help you lose weight and save money by cutting out the hidden calories often found in expensive ready meals. Cooking with friends and family can turn an evening meal into an event and sharing your leftover dishes with colleagues the next day will win you some serious office brownie points!
Be it 15 minutes of salutations before your morning shower or a long and relaxing virtual class in the evening, taking time out of your day to practise yoga is incredibly rewarding. “Through yoga we have the ability to replace negative behavioural and mental patterns with positive ones,” says Christabel Reed, yoga teacher and co-founder of the Advaya Initiative (advayainitiative.com). “Yoga helps to reinstate nourishing and healthy responses to the world around us. It offers a way to gain perspective and clarity so we can begin to notice the effects of our actions, but also enables us to harness our power to consciously create behavioural cycles that nourish our relationship with ourselves, each other and the natural world.”
More than just cute companions, spending time with animals offers a bounty of health benefits. Studies by the National Institute of Health have shown that pet owners have reduced blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which can contribute to a decreased risk of heart attacks and stroke. The friendship offered by an animal can also lead to an increased sense of purpose and wellbeing, lowering anxiety and stress levels. Oh, and did we mention how adorable they are?