Lilian Min
January 25, 2016 2:26 pm

Whether we’ve actually picked up a pair of needles or not, we can all agree that there’s something super comforting about knitting: The fluffy piles of yarn, the click-clack of needles, the literal warmth of knit creations. But now, more and more studies are showing that knitting actually has significant health benefits across a spectrum of ailments.

A new piece in the New York Times takes a look at several long-running knitting studies, and though they’re all focused on different aspects of health, they all draw the same conclusion — you should knit:

Knitting can decrease stress.

Getting the hang of any new activity takes time, but once you’ve made peace with your knitting needles, you’ll reap the benefits of the repetitive, methodical activity. The Times cites the Craft Yarn Circle’s “Stitch Away Stress” campaign, which raises awareness about National Stress Awareness Month (that’s March, FYI), and states, “Once you get beyond the initial learning curve, knitting and crocheting can lower heart rate and blood pressure and reduce harmful blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol.”

Knitting can be an outlet for creative fulfillment and community.

When I was growing up, my grandma used to knit and crochet all the time — scarves, sweaters, sweater dresses, even clothes for my stuffed animals. Knitting gave her a way to be active and social within our family and the community, and the pride she took in her work was obvious to all.

Knitters these days, who are oftentimes both younger and more gender-diverse than the practice’s past image suggests, can utilize social media to connect with other knitters online, compare and compliment others’ work, and peacock their own work. As the Times puts it, “[C]raft activities result in tangible and often useful products that can enhance self-esteem. I keep photos of my singular accomplishments on my cellphone to boost my spirits when needed.”

Knitting can function as both physical and emotional therapy.

Interestingly enough, knitting is increasingly being used in an explicitly therapeutic fashion. Programs like Knit to Quit (geared toward smokers looking to quit) and Knit to Heal (geared toward people going through emotional trauma), both founded by life coach Karen Zila Hayes, use knitting to help divert attention away from the issue at hand and toward the intense focus of knitting.

Additionally, the Times cites a 2009 study at the University of British Columbia which shows that out of “women with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa who were taught to knit found that learning the craft led to significant improvements. Seventy-four percent of the women said the activity lessened their fears and kept them from ruminating about their problem.” The same benefits were cited in other studies focused on clinical depression, chronic gain, and weight control.

Knitting can help keep your brain in shape.

We all know that keeping your mind engaged as you get older helps with preserving brain function, but knitting specifically is succeeding where other “smart” activities like reading newspapers and playing music don’t. Researchers cited by the Times “speculate that craft activities promote the development of neural pathways in the brain that help to maintain cognitive health,” while a 2011 Mayo Clinic study focused on people aged 70-89 showed that “those who engaged in crafts like knitting and crocheting had a diminished chance of developing mild cognitive impairment and memory loss.” Knitting’s mental, physical, and social components seem to make it particularly effective at keeping your brain in tip-top shape.

Read the full story on the New York Times here; meanwhile, we’ll be digging out our knitting supplies for the rest of the winter, and beyond.

Related reading:

This rad 24-year-old yarn artist is knitting for an amazing cause

This winter, we’re totally making our own scarves (no knitting required!)

(Image via Shutterstock)

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