Recently the media have cottoned on to the fact that knitting is good for our health! As knitters, many of us already feel this – but is it a placebo, or something more? Angie from the LoveKnitting team investigates.
Many knitters do what they do because it makes them feel good. For a variety of reasons, from the warm fuzzy feeling of donating knits to the simple rhythm of stocking stitch, we keep picking up the needles, day after day. Here at LoveKnitting, we have previously written about the mental health benefits of knitting and told our own stories about how knitting helps us. As an investigative personality with an insatiable hunger for facts, I wanted to know why.
As it turns out, the bilateral movement of knitting fires neurons all over your brain. Just like playing the piano, the act of usng both hands at once to make different movements stimulates a whole host of brain functions that scientists haven’t yet totally decoded. As a result, there are 4 main health benefits of knitting, as evidenced in scientific studies around the world.
Eating disorder management
In 2009, a small study took place in a specialized, in-patient eating disorder management program, and it yielded surprising results. All of the participants were taught to knit and given access to materials; 74% reported a significant decrease in weight management preoccupations, and 53% reported a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Doctors link this positive outcome with the well-known effects of knitting on mental health, applied to the detrimental effects that eating disorders can have on people. More studies are on the horizon in this topic, to research larger groups and the positive effects of knitting on patients who struggle with eating disorders long term.
Chronic pain management
A study at the Royal United Hospital in Bath, England revealed that people who suffer from chronic pain can benefit from knitting through several different ways. First, the meditative qualities of rhythmic activity aids in serotonin release, which causes feelings of happiness, calm, and content. Second, the social aspect of knitting circles meant that those who previously had felt alienated in society due to lack of mobility had a new support network; these newfound bonds carried on after the study ended.
Finally, the feeling of achievement and accomplishment help to aid the development of new identities separate from the chronic pain that previously ruled every waking moment. All of the study’s participants chose to knit for charities, and that newfound “purpose” led to more positive thinking and network building within the chronic pain community.
Memory and dementia
As many with ageing relatives know, dementia can be a devastating degenerative illness that takes a toll on patients and caregivers alike. In June 2010, Cardiff University in Wales began studying the effects of knitting on memory loss and word recall. While there was a difference between knitters and non-knitters, the study ended in May 2011 due to inconclusive results on a scientific level.
However, the Spring 2011 edition of The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences published a study from the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, USA, which cited statistics suggesting that crafters of all stripes benefit from improved cognition and a decreased risk of cognitive impairment. These results showed that crafting, reading, and played logical games like chess enjoyed a shocking 50% decrease in odds of having a mild cognitive impairment.
Doctors support a theory that participating in these activities makes “deposits into an individual’s brain bank,” creating a cognitive reserve which can ultimately protect them from cognitive impairment from diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Depression and anxiety
As we have reported in the past, knitting and crafting has a huge impact on the effects of depression and anxiety across all ages, cultures, and genders. Two cancer ward nurses decided to test their theory that knitting would help prevent and treat “compassion burnout” in hospital nurses. Though it was a small group of 38 participants in a blind study, the results showed that all of the nurses felt less burned out at the end of the 13 week study.
If you’re still doubting the effects of knitting on mental health, consider this: after World War I, shell-shocked soldiers were taught to knit as a part of their Post Traumatic Stress Disorder treatment.
In 2014, the news organization CNN studied the effects of knitting on mood as part of their This Is Your Brain series. Participants were all diagnosed with clinical depression, and 81% reported feelings of “very happy” after knitting for a short amount of time.
It’s been proven time and again through genuine scientific studies that knitting and crafting has significant benefits on both physical and mental health. Though more studies are on the horizon to research ongoing effects and the intensity of these effects, it’s a sure thing that knitting is good for you.
What are the health benefits of knitting that you experience?
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