AT YOUR LEISURE
Best Health|August/September 2021
WHAT YOU DO WITH YOUR FREE TIME IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOU MIGHT THINK. HERE’S WHY HAVING A HOBBY IS GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH - AND HOW TO FIND ONE THAT’S RIGHT FOR YOU
Dominique Lamberton
Ruth Lee has lived in Calgary for 26 years, since she was three years old. But it wasn’t until she met her boyfriend in 2014 that she learned she lives in a fly-fishing utopia, and that the Bow River that rushes through Alberta’s largest city is a bucket-list topper for anglers around the world. Shortly after they started dating, Lee’s boyfriend, an avid fly-fisher, took her out to a quiet spot on the Bow, just south of the city. Standing in the flowing water in just her flip-flops and shorts, she learned to cast and, to her surprise, caught her first fish: a 12-inchlong rainbow trout. She’s been hooked on the hobby ever since.

“I’m first-generation Korean-Canadian and, growing up, my parents were always working,” says the graphic designer. “I always wanted that sort of adventure, but I didn’t know how to go about it.” While she has her boyfriend as an instructor and guide, in 2018, Lee joined the Calgary Women Fly Fishers Club, connecting with fisherwomen of all ages and abilities at weekly meetings, at fly-tying workshops and on day trips. But whether she’s with her partner or the club, she keeps on casting because of what it does for her mind. “From nine to five, I’m on a screen,” she says. “Fly-fishing is a way to put my phone away, disconnect and be present. It’s also brought me gratitude for where I live.”

With all of the demands on women’s time, from careers to caregiving, hobbies might seem low on the priority list. But even though we’re juggling families, relationships, meetings and appointments, it’s essential for our health that we add in activities that bring joy and pleasure. “Leisure is the space in our lives that is most free,” says Colleen Deyell Hood, a psychotherapist and professor of recreation and leisure studies at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., who has been active in the field of therapeutic recreation for more than 30 years. “Everywhere else we’re constrained by job expectations or roles, but in leisure, we can purposefully choose engagement activities that support our health.” And getting this kind of fulfillment outside work and family life, where so much of our value is placed (or, conversely, where we don’t feel we get to use our strengths), is essential for self-esteem and satisfaction, says Deyell Hood.

Of course, there are the physical benefits that come along with hobbies such as running, yoga and salsa dancing, and social benefits tied to hobbies like playing on a volleyball team and singing in a choir. But it’s the mental health benefits provided by all hobbies, no matter what they look like, that make them so beneficial to our lives— especially when something destabilizing, like a pandemic, comes along.

In the past 18 months, as COVID-19 restrictions put further constraints on us, hobbies have become even more vital for our mental health, to maintain routine, provide richness and enjoyment, and manage stress and anxiety. And as floor hockey leagues and in-person choir practices were halted—and after all the loaves of sourdough had been baked—many people opted for solitary outdoor activities, such as fly-fishing, birdwatching and stargazing, all of which have surged in popularity since March 2020.

“What’s arisen from the pandemic is a return simpler, low-equipment, low-structure activities,” says Deyell Hood. “Given how structured our lives are, I think it’s a good thing! Going birdwatching or hiking with your dog are wonderful, simple, contemplative activities that can have tremendous benefit.”

HOW TO FIND A HOBBY

Leisure expert Colleen Deyell Hood has some tips for getting started.

LOOK TO THE PAST

“Ask yourself: What have I previously enjoyed? And even more importantly, what about it did I enjoy? If you loved playing basketball in university, that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to, or can, play basketball now. So what is it about the sport that you liked? Was it being on a team? The competition aspect? The skills associated with ball handling? Once you’ve figured it out, think about other options that offer the same thing. If being on a team was important, maybe join a community organization that keeps your neighbourhood clean.”

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