Knit your way to health

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Knitting has had a make–over. It’s no longer associated with old ladies; it’s become a trendy thing to own up to, with countless blogs, websites and YouTube videos devoted to the art of knit. 

I re-discovered the joy of knitting and crocheting two years ago. It’s a great way to pass the time when travelling, standing in line, or in a waiting room. I get a sense of accomplishment in creating something with my hands, and I get so much joy out of making gifts for friends.

Cast on for Calm

I have found knitting and crocheting is a great way to switch off my constantly-busy mind; the repetitive and gently rhythmic motion promotes a wonderfully relaxing state.  I struggle with traditional meditation, so knitting and crocheting have become my new way to meditation. Research has shown that knitting, crocheting, and other repetitive needlework may help with depression, act as a stress-reliever, decrease heart rate and blood pressure, and lessen anxiety.

Breast cancer survivor, Susan MacLaughlin, who started the blog Knit One Health Too blog attests to the benefits of knitting:

There’s something about the creative process. The heart opens up and takes you to another place. It’s like how you feel after hiking up a mountain.

Mental Focus

Learning new stitches and following a pattern is good mental exercise; it may even help with chemo-brain. Yonas Geda, associate professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, published a study in the Spring 2011 edition of The Journal of Neuropsychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences 1 that showed that people who engaged their minds by reading books, playing games or crafting had a decreased risk of mild cognitive impairment.  Their study looked at 1,321 adults, ages 70 to 89, 197 of whom had been identified as already having mild cognitive impairment. Both the normal and cognitively impaired groups were surveyed about their activities within the last year. The study demonstrated that using the brain might prevent losing it. The data showed that computer use, playing games, crafting, reading books and watching less TV resulted in a striking 30 to 50 percent decrease in the odds of having mild cognitive impairment.

Pain Management

Knitting may help with pain management, according to research being conducted by Betsan Corkhill via Stitchlinks.

Pain originates in the brain not in muscles and joints,” she says. “The brain has to pay attention to signals coming up from your body. If you’re lonely or bored or unhappy, you’ll experience more pain than if you’re socially active and occupied and that’s very well accepted.

Today, as a result of her work, which she presented at an Annual Scientific Meeting of the British Pain Society, more pain clinics in the U.K. are using knitting therapeutically.

Social Outlet

The social aspect of knitting, too, plays into knitting’s positive mental benefits. For people who like to knit in groups, knitting provides a social outlet, a critical element in maintaining mental health. Even if you can’t find an in-person group to join, there are many online communities, such as Ravelry which provide similar benefits.

Getting Started

Getting started is easy. All you need are two knitting needles, or a crochet hook, some yarn and the willingness to learn. I like to use bamboo knitting needles to work with, rather than metal – they are much more comfortable and pleasant to work with. Here are some tips which may also help you.

  • Get comfortable; putting your feet up on a footrest will help with circulation and relaxation when you are knitting.
  • Make sure you have enough light to see what you are doing without straining your eyes.
  • It’s easy to get lost in the activity and find time passing without you thinking of taking a break. I know it’s time to take a break when my fingers start to cramp; it’s a good idea to take regular breaks before this happens.  I’ve heard the suggestion that you should do warm-up exercises for your hands and fingers before you begin.
  • Try some hand rotations and massaging your fingers and hands when you take a break.
  • Check for tension in your neck and shoulders and ease these out with neck rolls and shoulder shrugs before you resume your  work.

I’d love to hear from those of you who are already fans of knitting, crocheting, and other needlework. What advice would you give someone who is interested in learning more? Please share your tips below.

 


 

References

1. Engaging in Cognitive Activities, Aging, and Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Population-Based Study. Geda YE et al. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences. 23 (2) SPRING 2011

If you are interested in more research on the health benefits of knitting, see below:

  1. Knitting. Dittrich, LR. Academic Medicine: July 2001 – Volume 76 – Issue 7 – p 671
  2. Managing depression through needlecraft creative activities: A qualitative study. Reynolds, F.  2000, The Arts in Psychotherapy. 27 (2) 107-114
  3. Coping with chronic illness and disability through creative needlework. Reynolds, F, BJOT,1997, 60(8), 352-356
  4. Reclaiming a positive identity in chronic illness through artistic occupation. Reynolds, F, OTJR: Occupation, Participation, and Health, 2003 23(3), 118-127.
  5. 5. Creative arts occupations in therapeutic practice: a review of the literature. Perruzza, N.; Kinsella, E.A., The British Journal of Occupational Therapy, Volume 73, Number 6, June 2010 , pp. 261-268(8)
  6. The Truth About Knitting and Crochet
  7. This is your brain on knitting
  8. The bliss of handcrafts