If you think knitting as a tad fusty and old-fashioned, think again. Einstein is purported to have knitted to clear his mind. As anyone who hooked on the craft will say, knitting’s repetitive rhythmic movements are relaxing and can keep you centered. Knitting is actually now considered a cutting edge self-care tool, with therapeutic knitting and therapeutic knitting groups being formally acknowledged by leading clinicians and academics for their benefits in mainstream healthcare.
Also referred to (by some) as a bilateral, rhythmic, psychosocial intervention, the craft has undergone a significant revival in the last decade or so. The Craft Yarn Council reports that a third of women ages 25 to 35 now knit or crochet. Here are four surprising benefits to purling one on. (or getting your purl on).
Like a metronome, the repetitive rhythm of stitching calms the heart rate and breathing, creating a feeling of stability and inner quiet similar to yoga and meditation. Herbert Benson, a pioneer in mind/body medicine and author of The Relaxation Response says knitting can confer significant health benefits. “Once you get beyond the initial learning curve,” he says, “knitting and crocheting can lower heart rate and blood pressure and reduce harmful blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol.”
Slows cognitive decline
Perhaps most exciting is research that suggests that crafts like knitting and crocheting may help to stave off a decline in brain function with age. The authors of a 1995 study of a cohort of 2,040 people 65 and older concluded that “regular participation in social or leisure activities such as traveling, odd jobs, knitting or gardening were associated with a lower risk of subsequent dementia.” More recently, a 2012 Mayo Clinic study studied the effects of activities including knitting, quilting and playing games in 1,321 seniors, nearly 200 of whom had mild cognitive impairment, an intermediate stage between normal aging and dementia. The researchers found that seniors who “engaged in crafting, computer activities, playing games and reading books were 30 to 50 percent less likely to have mild cognitive impairment than those who did not.”
Clears the mind
The rhythmic action of repeated stitching is highly reminiscent of meditation practices—in recent years there has been a slew of studies about meditation’s effect on the brain. One tangible benefit of meditation on the brain is improved emotional processing and better decision-making. A study published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy showed a significant relationship between knitting frequency and feeling calm and happy. Respondents, who knit the most often, said that knitting positively affected their cognitive functioning, helping them to sort through problems or think more easily. A whopping 61% of respondents felt it helped them concentrate better too.
Wards off depression
Knitting induces a sense of flow or absorption that provides a deep sense of intrinsic satisfaction. Habitual immersion into a creative process is inherently life affirming. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian psychologist, said in a 2004 TED talk:
“When we are involved in (creativity), we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life. You know that what you need to do is possible to do, even though difficult, and sense of time disappears. You forget yourself. You feel part of something larger.” So if you feel anxious, depressed, stressed–or if you are in the midst of an existential life crisis—try the humble act of knitting. Stitch by stitch, you link yourself to a great cosmic pattern of life, and that connection alone can be enough to ward off the blues.