More time spent at home isn’t the only reason behind the sudden surge of interest in baking that took off soon after Canadians were asked to self-isolate due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sure, part of it is the primal comfort of eating, and the satisfaction we get from preparing food for people we love.
But I believe there’s more to it than that: when we’re absorbed in a hobby like baking, knitting, painting, or woodworking, we escape from stress. For instance, I love to cook, and even before coronavirus forced everyone to cut down on trips to the grocery store, I enjoyed hunting for new recipes to use up that leftover half a can of tomatoes, or cup of mashed potato. (Pro tip: I recently realized that you can freeze the unused portion of a can of tomato paste in an ice cube tray, then store the cubes in a freezer bag for future use.) Like mindfulness meditation, hobbies keep us anchored in the present moment, which helps prevent us from ruminating over the past, or worrying about the future. (And in the case of cooking, even on days when it feels like I’ve accomplished nothing else, I get a sense of accomplishment from preparing a delicious meal.)
However, that’s not all hobbies have to offer. Depending on the activity, a hobby can create and cement the kinds of social connections that are so important to keeping us healthy as we age, and they can challenge and stimulate our minds, which may reduce the risk of developing dementia later in life.
A belated thank-you to the interviewees who gave so generously of their time and expertise: Dr. Nicole Anderson, a senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute, and an associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Toronto; Dr. Sylvie Belleville, the scientific director of the University of Montreal’s Geriatric Institute; Dr. Janet Fast, a professor of human ecology and co-director of the Research on Aging Policies and Practice (RAPP) program at the University of Alberta in Edmonton; and Dr. Angela Troyer, professional practice chief of psychology, and program director of the Neuropsychology and Cognitive Health program at Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto.