You wouldn’t think that something as simple as knitting could actually have numerous health benefits, but it does. In my own opinion, doing anything which focuses your attention on the present moment and has you engaged in some sort of enjoyable task is going to do wonders for your physical and psychological well-being. These kinds of activities function in a similar way as meditation, which has been shown to increase grey matter in the brain and elicit the “relaxation response,” which in turn has been shown to have a very positive impact on gastrointensintal disorders. But unlike meditation, as Jane E. Brody from The New York Times writes, “craft activities result in tangible and often useful products that can enhance self-esteem.”
1. It Alleviates Symptoms of Anxiety, Stress, and Depression
Not long ago, the Craft Yarn Council created a “Stitch Away Stress” campaign. It was in honor of Dr. Herbert Benson, a pioneer in mind/body medicine and author of The Relaxation Response. I’ve written about his work before; you can check out these articles, which are loosely related to this topic, to learn more about his work and about meditation and relaxation:
Harvard study unveils what meditation does to the brain
The Craft Yarn Council has been providing knitting as an option for participants for nearly two decades and, according to Brody, there have been “thousands of knitters and crocheters, who routinely list stress relief and creative fulfillment as the activities’ main benefits.”
For example, this is what a father of a prematurely born daughter said about his experience with knitting during his baby’s five weeks in the intensive care unit.
“Learning how to knit preemie hats gave me a sense of purpose during a time that I felt very helpless. It’s a hobby that I’ve stuck with, and it continues to help me cope with stress at work, provide a sense of order in hectic days, and allows my brain time to solve problems.” (source)
A study conducted by the University of British Columbia in 2009 suggested that knitting could benefit patients with eating disorders by reducing their “anxious preoccupations about eating, weight and shape control.”
Carrie Barron, a psychiatrist at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, also stresses that arts, craft, and ‘handiwork’ are all wonderful tools for alleviating anxiety and depression. (source)
“Using your hands meaningfully triggers healthy engagement and activity in about 60 percent of your brain, said Alton Barron. The rhythmic, mathematical nature of knitting and crocheting keep the mind absorbed in a healthy way, providing an escape from stressful thoughts but allowing for internal reflection.” (source)
According to a survey conducted by the British Journal of Occupational Therapy, people’s moods improve markedly after knitting. Of the 3,500 knitters they surveyed, 34 percent reported feeling happy before knitting, and 23 percent felt sad. After knitting, only 1 percent remained sad, and 81 percent described their feelings as ‘a little happy’ to ‘very happy.’ (source)
If you experience anxiety, stress, or depression, go do something you enjoy, find some hobbies, or do something else that will focus your mind on the present rather than on things that happened in the past or things that may (or may not) happen in the future.
2. It Can Help Stave Off A Decline In Brain Function
According to a study published in 2011, elders who participate in arts and crafts are up to 50 percent less likely to experience a decline in brain function or a mild cognitive impairment compared to those who don’t. (source)
A 2007 paper looked at the neurological basis for how activities and hobbies like knitting relate to well-being and health. As the Washington Post reports, they found that engaging in these activities stimulates the mind, slows cognitive decline, and reduces the effects of stress-related diseases. (source)
3. It Can Help Prevent Arthritis & Tendinitis
According to Alton Barron, orthopaedic surgeon and president of the New York Society for Surgery of the Hand, knitting can prevent arthritis and tendinitis.
As the Chicago Tribune reports, Dr. Barron said that knitting “can be a great workout for the fingers, hands and forearms. Moving the joints of the fingers forces fluid to move in and out of the surrounding, sponge like cartilage, keeping the joints well-hydrated and minimizing the risks of arthritis.”
He writes about it in his book titled The Creativity Cure: Building Happiness With Your Own Two Hands.
4. It Puts You In The Present
There are no studies or statistically significant proofs for this point, but, as I hinted at earlier in the article, the great thing about doing activities that we enjoy is that they put us directly in the present moment. All of a sudden, your thoughts disappear, your mind quiets down, and you are simply focused on what you are doing in that moment. This is why I think so many people report that knitting and similar activities help with their stress and anxiety.
I believe anything that puts you in the present moment can have the same effects. Sports are a great example, or basically anything else that provides you with some sort of joy or stimulation. The power of presence is truly remarkable.
“Creating is beneficial for a number of reasons, one being that it allows you to become fully immersed in the moment to the extent that your worries fade away. This ‘flow,’ according to psychologist Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, is the secret to happiness.” (source)
You can view this TED talk given by Mihaly (mentioned in quote above) here.