Knitting Away Stress and Pain

Knitting, similar crafts benefit health and mood

Though knitting may be an activity most common among an older generation, new research suggests that the craft may have both therapeutic and health benefits.

According to an article published by the New York Times, the Craft Yarn Council has reported that nearly a third of women ages 25 to 35 knit or crochet, as well as many men and schoolchildren. The article claims that the craft offers significant benefits for both body and mind.

The council created a “Stitch Away Stress” campaign last April in honor of National Stress Awareness Month, according to the article. Dr. Herbert Benson, author of “The Relaxation Response” and an innovator in mind and body medicine, told the Times that the repetitive action of needlework may induce a relaxed state similar in effect to yoga or meditation. This relaxed state can lower one’s heart rate and blood pressure, as well as reduce harmful blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Paul Rogers, the article’s author, says that unlike meditation, craft activities like knitting result in a tangible product that can enhance self-esteem. Rogers has been knitting regularly for the past 15 years and says that his handiwork also helps his arthritic fingers to become more dexterous.

According to the article, Rogers recently received an email from the yarn group Red Heart titled “Health Benefits of Crocheting and Knitting,” which prompted him to research the health value of activities like knitting.

He discovered several therapy groups, including two groups based in Toronto—Knit to Quit, a group that helps smokers kick the habit, and Knit to Heal, which helps people cope with a health crisis such as a cancer diagnosis. Rogers says that he also discovered school and prison craft programs that claim knitting has a calming effect and improves social and math skills.

A notable health benefit, according to the article, can be seen in people who suffer from anorexia nervosa. According to a 2009 University of British Columbia study, researchers taught 38 women how to knit. Seventy-four percent of the women reported that the activity lessened their fears and took their mind off of their condition.

Perhaps the most exciting finding is that crafts such as knitting may stave off a decline in brain function with age, according to a 2011 study led by Dr. Yonas E. Geda, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. The researchers randomly interviewed 1,321 people ages 70 to 89 who had mostly normal cognitive function, and found that those who engaged in crafts like knitting were less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment and memory loss.

“Given that sustained social contacts have been shown to support health and longevity, those wishing to maximize the health value of crafts might consider joining a group of like-minded folks,” concludes Rogers in the article.

The article was published on January 25 in the New York Times.