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Wellness, COVID-19

Making Bread Boosts Strength and Beats Boredom

A neurologist and veteran bread baker offers a simple recipe for coping with COVID-19 constraints.

Oatmeal bread

Here’s a riddle for you: What stay-at-home activity combines exercise, occupational therapy, and stress management—and produces delicious results? The answer: Baking bread!

This 30,000-year-old tradition is a particularly effective, fun, and tasty way to address the lack of physical activity, boredom, and limited ability to go grocery shopping imposed by the current COVID-19 crisis.

My own love affair with bread making started in biology lab in college. I was working on a project that involved breeding fruit flies, tiny insects that mostly eat yeast. Although my experiments weren’t particularly successful, I did have a lot of leftover yeast, which I hated to waste. So, I brought it home and used it to bake my first loaf. I’ve been baking bread ever since—and reaping these benefits.

Strength. When done properly, kneading dough is good exercise. Place the dough on a counter, cutting board, or other flat and sturdy surface and press the heels of your hands into it, pushing it away from you. Turn the dough over on itself and repeat, rotating the dough as you go. Work rapidly, lean into it, and apply your upper body strength.

Calm. The repetition of steady and vigorous kneading can be calming and contemplative. It’s also a good way to let out aggression.

Dexterity. Manipulating or braiding dough into decorative shapes hones finer motor skills.

Health. Add whole grains, extra fiber, nuts and seeds, or other healthy ingredients. And remember, bread dough is very forgiving. Even an imperfect-looking loaf is delicious!

Try this easy recipe for beginning bread makers. It has extra fiber and protein and is especially tasty when toasted.

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats cooked with 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup milk, slightly warmed (not hot!)
  • 1 packet (2 ¼ tsp) yeast
  • 2 cups white flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter or oil
  • 1 egg yolk (save the white)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook oatmeal according to instructions and let it cool to room temperature.

Pour yeast and milk into a small bowl and stir to combine. Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Beat egg yolk and butter or oil into yeast/milk mixture and add to dry ingredients to make a rough dough. Stir in cooked oatmeal.

Knead until dough is smooth and elastic (about five to 10 minutes). It will be very sticky at first; try not to add too much more flour as you knead. Add a bit more liquid if too dry, or a little more flour if too wet.

Place dough into a greased bowl, cover, and let it rise in a warm place until doubled.

Once dough is doubled, punch it down and shape it into a rectangle whose long sides are just shorter than the long sides of a loaf pan. With one of the long sides facing you, fold the top third of the rectangle until it meets the middle, then fold the bottom third up to meet it. Seal the seam with your fingers and tuck in the ends.

Place the loaf seam side down in a greased loaf pan, cover and let rise until the top of the loaf is slightly above the top of the pan.

Brush the top with reserved egg white that has been beaten with a tablespoon of water. Sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds, or oats.

Bake at 350 degrees until loaf is well browned and sounds hollow when tapped (about 25 to 30 minutes).

Dr. Giesser is professor emeritus of clinical neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in California, a staff physician at Pacific Neuroscience Institute, and a member of the Brain & Life editorial board.

Read More:

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and Neurologic Disease Resource Center