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HEALTHY HINTS: Joining activities good for mind and body

by Jenny Aitken

Moving to a new city can be hard. There’s the obvious challenges (assembling Ikea furniture, finding a Laundromat close by with passably clean floors, figuring out the transit system). Then there are the challenges that take longer to resolve. For me, that was figuring out how to meet people.

Growing up in Yellowknife, I was fortunate to make good friends in my middle and high school years that I still have today. At university I had to make new friends, but when you’re living in residence, and no one knows anyone, but you’re all right there and everyone is eager to make connections, it turns out to be fairly easy.

Joseph Ouellette and Ryan Snyder practice at Ptarmigan Studio on Feb. 22 for the Aurora Ukrainian Dancers "Dancing through the Decades" celebration of 40 years of Ukrainian dance in Yellowknife on Mar. 9 and 10 at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre. While this might be somewhat of a culturally specific volunteer activity for newcomers to the city, columnist Jenny Aitken suggests getting involved in a cultural group is a great way to get to know people in a new city. Bogdan Stanciu/NNSL photo

Moving to Toronto though, and knowing just a handful of people, I had to try new things. After learning quickly that talking to strangers in a big city (or even smiling at someone really) will make them think you are A) trying to take their money, or B) unstable, I realized I would need to find some new avenues for meeting people and getting myself “out there.”

For me, that came in the form of signing up for activities. I joined a beginner’s improvisation class, where for two hours a week I would get to play games, create characters and act in scenes with a group of 10 other improv newbies. We all were taking the class for different reasons (to increase confidence, to be quicker on our feet, to put ourselves out there a bit). None of us wanted to perform onstage in the future, but we were all having fun with it.

I also started taking dance classes in my neighborhood, getting familiar with the instructor and the other ladies who regularly attended. Despite my inability to perform a pretty wide range of the dance moves (anything meant to look sexy, and anything involving flexibility), it was always fun and it gave me something social look forward to.

Once I started taking a weekly vegetarian Indian cooking class my calendar started to really fill up, and the more regular activities I planned, the more comfortable I started to feel. I spent less time moping around my apartment feeling sorry for myself, and more time out learning new skills and having fun.

Joining activities is good for all of us, but has particularly health-boosting effects for older people.

An article published by the National Institute of Aging notes that research has shown that participating in social and productive activities can improve a person’s sense of well being, and can lower the risk of certain health problems, such as dementia.

Studies also show that older adults who participated in what they found to be meaningful activities (such as volunteering or pursuing hobbies) reported that they felt happier and healthier than those who did not.

The USA Today article entitled, “Feeling Lonely? 9 things you can do to help yourself,” recommends seeking out community resources when feeling lonely – find out what local activities are being planned and sign up to participate. The article also recommends finding like-minded people, as it’s often easier to establish a relationship with someone if you have things in common. I found that in my improv class, where although none of us wanted to be onstage, we were all happy to attend weekend improv shows and watch other (considerably more talented) performers take that risk.

In Yellowknife, we are fortunate to have so many activities and clubs available to us. Whether you want to volunteer, curl, act in a play, build a giant snow castle, ski, practice yoga, dance, unicycle, throw a Frisbee, perform burlesque … there is a group for just about everything. So go out and try something new, because even if you’re not great at it, you will probably have a good time.