Finding the right hobby can be great for your physical and mental health, and can expand your social circle, too. It may even provide a source of income or a volunteering opportunity.
“Hobbies can dramatically alter the state of your nervous system,” says Harley Street performance and confidence coach, Olivia James. “They can take us out of ourselves, change our perspective and improve mood.”
Stress management expert, Geraldine Joaquim, explains that taking up the right hobby can affect the chemical balance in your body. “It helps to temper the release of stress hormones and increase the release of serotonin (our ‘happy hormone’). And if your chosen pastime includes other people, you release other chemicals like oxytocin and dopamine, which make you feel great!”
Geraldine believes most hobbies offer “secondary benefits”. She says, “Hobbies can be quiet and calm, they can be productive, they can be sweat-inducing. A keen gardener with a garden full of produce, a runner who maintains their fitness, a reader with extensive vocabulary and knowledge… in all there is a sense of satisfaction and often an improvement of skill through experience.”
Whether you’ve enjoyed an interest since childhood, or discovered something in later life, hobbies can open up all sorts of opportunities.
Hilary Cakebread-Hall, 65, has found her gardening hobby has brought her multiple benefits over the years. “Even a short time gardening is as good as a workout – and you can see the results!” she says. “And it’s a great way to spend time thinking through things – maybe even subconsciously – like a work or personal problem. Stepping back can put things into perspective.”
Her love of gardening led to a stint as a volunteer for a local educational charity, Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Glasshouses, where she became chairman of the trustees. For Hilary (who has since retired), the position allowed her to work with volunteers and children, and share her love of the natural world.
The book club member
Afsaneh Parvizi-Wayne, founder of the My Modern Menopause platform, was also one of the founding members of a book club in 2001, together with parents from her daughter’s nursery. Already an avid reader, Afsaneh found attending the group stimulated conversation, and helped her to stay connected with parents she may have otherwise lost touch with.
She now is a member of two groups, and finds the time she spends with fellow readers invaluable. “My degree was in French and German literature, and the thought of reading books for pleasure without having to write essays about them remains such a joy, even to this day!” she says.
As well as the enjoyment she takes from her hobby, Afsaneh finds the thoughts her groups share about books, give her insight into the lives and feelings of others. “Conversations around books reveal so much about our individual perspectives on relationships, politics and general values in life. It allows people to unravel their own thoughts and beliefs about difficult or controversial subjects that happen to be in the book, and sometimes change their opinion.”
Alison Derrick, 64, took up a more unusual hobby almost by chance, when she met a team of beekeepers on her local allotment, 25 years ago.
“A friend and I started gardening as a way to have a break from our children!” she says. “At the allotment we rented, two of the plots were taken by a local beekeeping group. When my friend suggested we go and find out about keeping bees, I decided to give it a try.”
Beekeeping has since become not only a passion, but also a means of income for Alison, who together with her husband Robin, now creates skin creams and beeswax products such as reusable wraps, candles and furniture cream, after starting her business a decade ago.
“Honey and beeswax are such wonderful, natural products,” says Alison. “I’ve loved developing skin creams in particular.” And with great success: BeeInspired Silky Hand Cream won the Natural Health magazine award for best hand cream in 2018, and has since clocked up three further international skincare awards.
As well as the monetary benefit of selling her products, Alison feels indebted to beekeeping for improving her knowledge and respect for the natural world. “Looking after bees, learning about them and their crucial contribution to our existence is fascinating,” she says. “Also, the practical aspect is grounding and hands-on – it cannot be mechanised or rushed. The smell of a hive and the sound of the bees is the best part. Talking to other beekeepers is fascinating too; as with all hobbies, it can become something of an obsession.
“We attend craft fairs and events, and it’s amazing the people you meet. It’s so exciting to be surrounded by creativity.”
It’s clear that as well as bringing wellness benefits, a hobby can lead you on an exciting – and often unexpected – journey. So, if you’re thinking about taking up a new hobby, then why not opt for something a bit different? You never know where it may take you…