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We're officially into Autumn now, we've had the equinox (when the day and night are equal) and the nights will keep drawing in all the way to December 21st, the shortest day.

So how will you spend those long, dark winter evenings? You could just settle down in front of the telly, or immerse yourself in a good book – there's nothing wrong with either – but for many people this is the time of year when thoughts turn to hobbies.

The notion of having a hobby can seem an odd or outdated one to some people, especially those whose time is fully occupied with mobile phones, surfing the net, social media or computer games – which could qualify as hobbies in themselves. They would certainly meet the dictionary definition of a hobby, as "an activity done regularly in one's leisure time for pleasure".

But for generations a "hobby" has meant something distinct, an activity carried out maybe individually or perhaps in a group, but generally reserved for a particular time or place and separate from a person's ordinary everyday routine.

Hobbies come in all shapes and sizes, and it's a fair bet that somewhere there's a hobby to suit everyone. As winter draws in you might be thinking of renewing an existing hobby, or maybe finding a new one, something to stimulate and interest you, maybe teach you a new skill or allow you to make new friends through a shared interest. In fact, hobbies can have a wide variety of benefits, and here are just a few:

Hobbies help relieve stress. Adding another activity to an already busy life might not seem the best way to reduce stress, but if you're careful about what you choose it can be a great way to 'let off steam'. Choose something you really enjoy, something that relaxes you and takes your mind off other worries, and you'll be amazed at the therapeutic benefits.

Hobbies help you focus on the here and now. Once you become absorbed in an activity you love you quickly forget the cares of the day, worrying what the future might hold or dwelling on the past. Instead you can concentrate on what you're doing right now, whether it's singing the right note, finding the next piece of the jigsaw or baking the perfect cake.

Hobbies offer a new challenge. A hobby can break up your routine and give you something new to learn, to progress with and maybe even become a master of. There's a lot of satisfaction in approaching something new and steadily getting to grips with it until you are proficient and can impress or entertain others with your new-found skill.

Hobbies can help you make friends. Many hobbies are group-based activities, whether it's singing in a choir, joining a walking group or camera club, attending a night-school class, or playing in a band. Get involved in a group hobby and you're sure to make new friends with similar interests and who can help you develop your skills. Even if you choose a hobby to do at home, go online and you're bound to find other devotees who form a 'virtual community' you can become part of.

Hobbies can be productive and even profitable. Choose a hobby such as knitting and you'll never need buy another pullover or scarf! Many hobbies can have an end product which you can keep to enjoy yourself, maybe give as a gift to others or even sell, perhaps to raise money for your favourite charity or to plough back into new materials for your hobby. In some cases people end up turning their hobby into a profitable business, making a living from something they love.

Hobbies can benefit others as well as yourself. There are plenty of activities to get involved with which you will find rewarding and which help others too. For example, you could become a Scout or Guide leader, get involved with a community group or volunteer to work part-time in a charity shop. You may already have specific knowledge or skills which you could share to help others. Take a look around in your local community to see how you could do some good while having fun yourself.

Hobbies have physical health benefits. If you're concerned about aspects of your health and want to make changes for the better, a hobby can help you achieve that. For example, swimming can help with joint pain and general mobility, line dancing will build strength and co-ordination, while singing in a choir will improve your breathing and pelvic support. You don't need to join the gym or the local bodybuilding club... unless you want to.

If you're thinking of a new hobby but not sure what to try, consider what you want to get out of it. Do you want something you can do alone whenever the fancy takes you, or in a group on a regular day each week? Do you want to take up something you enjoyed in the past, maybe as a child, or have a go at something completely new? Do you want something that challenges the body, or the mind, or both? Do you want something to do all year round, or just through the winter?

And always remember, if you find your new hobby isn't for you after all, there are plenty more out there to try!

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