Your grandmother or aunt who gives you a hand knit scarf or hat every holiday season is on to something- she may not be aware of it, but she is not only knitting for the sheer pleasure of showering her loved ones with handmade gifts but she is actually enjoying numerous health benefits from the act of knitting.
Knitting is rising in popularity and not only for women and the elderly. In fact, many health care facilities and cancer centers are encouraging their patients to try knitting. This is because, in addition to being fun and productive, research shows that knitting is one way to help cancer patients cope. It helps alleviate symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression- all too common in people with cancer or other serious illnesses.
According to a survey conducted by the British Journal of Occupational Therapy, people’s moods improve markedly after knitting1. The repetitive motion of knitting can boost serotonin which is a neurotransmitter that mitigates against depression and anxiety2. According to the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, knitting’s repetitious movements can elicit the “relaxation response”, which is the body’s counterbalance to stress, a state in which heart rate and blood pressure fall, breathing slows and levels of stress hormones drop.
“Using your hands meaningfully triggers healthy engagement and activity in about 60 percent of your brain. 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 reflection3“.
Many report that knitting, like other crafts, quiets the brain and allows one to focus on the present moment. Others believe that the benefits come from seeing a project take shape and that producing a usable product provides a sense of accomplishment and a sense of satisfaction.
For those facing a serious illness like cancer, knitting can reduce stress and anxiety and can provide positive social interactions if done in a club or group. In addition, knitting can provide a necessary sense of control that is often reported as lacking for patients with illnesses. So pick up those knitting needles and start knitting that cozy scarf for next winter. Or better yet, knit a neonatal blanket or a chemo cap and donate it through Knots of Love!
1Riley, J., Corkhill, B., and Morris, C. “The Benefits if Knitting for Personal and Social Wellbeing in Adulthood: Findings from and International Study.” British Journal of Occupational Therapy February 2013 vol. 76 no. 250-57
2Barron, C. “I Knit Therefore I Can: the Science Behind Knitting and Psychological Health” YNM, Sept-Oct, 2015, p36-39.
3Barron, C. and Baron A, The Creativity Cure: Building Happiness With Your Own Two Hands.
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