Health & Wellness

Cooking Up Calm: a booklet that can help with healthy aging

By Wendy Haaf


Cooking Up Calm is a booklet developed by Gail Low, an associate professor of nursing and a gerontology researcher, and the Living Well Research Team. It contains tips, strategies and recipes to help reduce anxiety, fear, and loneliness.

Like a lot of Canadians, Gail Low found herself responding emotionally to the early days of the COVID lockdown. “I was going stir crazy, and I just felt really helpless,” she says. But as an associate professor of nursing and a gerontology researcher at the University of Alberta, Low was also concerned about how lockdown restrictions might be affecting people 50 or older, since research has linked social isolation and loneliness with a range of physical and mental health harms in older adults. Surely, she reasoned, someone with her background should be able to help in some way—but how?

Inspiration dawned after Low found herself drawn in by a cooking show and decided to follow along and prepare the soup recipe herself. “I got really engrossed in the show, and I wasn’t thinking about COVID,” Low says. “I felt more relaxed, and I got nutrition into my body.”

That seed sprouted into the Living Well Research Team, on which Low served as the principal investigator. The team’s goal was to learn how older adults were coping during COVID; determine which strategies proved most helpful in doing so; and serve up those findings in a format that could spark social connections, and conversations about mental health.

The result is Cooking up calm, a 33-page booklet featuring easily digestible bites of text interspersed with recipes for comforting, affordable dishes. The publication lays out evidence-based strategies—gleaned from analyzing an electronic survey of 1,327 Canadians aged 60 and over—for helping older adults reduce anxiety, fear, and loneliness.

The researchers hope the booklet will serve as an icebreaker for opening conversations around mental health. For instance, if you’re concerned a loved one might be feeling down, you might ask them to look through the booklet to find a recipe they’d like to prepare together.

“Part of the purpose (of the project) is to have more palatable conversations about mental health,” Low says. “It’s a vehicle for conversation, and conversation reduces loneliness and depression,” adds Gloria Gutman, a study co-investigator, professor emerita at Simon Fraser University, and former director of the university’s Gerontology Research Centre.

Cooking Up Calmis a booklet funded by and developed in collaboration with the RTOERO Foundation, and Gail Low, an associate professor of nursing, and the Living Well Research Team. It contains tips, strategies and recipes to help reduce anxiety, fear, and loneliness.
Low, Gutman, and their colleagues are urging older Canadians who haven’t already done so to download Cooking up calm for free.
Want to share thoughts about Cooking up calm? Here is the link to a survey. Your insights, gathered via a 3-minute survey, will play a pivotal role in keeping this mentally healthy resource alive!
View the study description.