Knitting isn’t just for grandma anymore. As the fiber craft has made a resurgence in popularity among a younger crowd, some have questioned whether knitting, which is sometimes used as a meditative relaxation tool, offers additional health benefits.

Knit for Peace, an organization that brings knitters together to provide garments for those in need across the world, compiled a review of literature on the health benefits of knitting. Their findings revealed that knitting does, in fact, offer a wide variety of health benefits.1

Knitting is both process- and product-oriented, encompassing repetitive tasks that can exercise physical and cognitive skills, as well as creating an output that provides a sense of satisfaction. One 2013 study2 showed that knitting can produce feelings of calm and happiness in people who regularly participate in the practice. 

Research from Harvard Medical School’s Mind and Body Institute proved that knitting lowers the heart rate by an average of 11 beats per minute,1 and leads to lower blood pressure.3 This is part of the “relaxation response,” which can also be induced by activities such as yoga or jogging, and produces a similar meditative state.

Another potential health benefit of knitting is chronic pain relief,4,5 possibly as a result of knitting serving as a distraction and psychologically causing a reduction in pain. In terms of broader benefits to mental health, knitting has been shown to decrease odds of age-related mild cognitive impairment,6 and may even help alleviate effects of dementia such as apathy and depression.

Knitting also allows participants to build community and connection with others, leading to a better mental state among those who experience feelings of social isolation and loneliness.7-9 Knitting also activates the reward system, resulting from the creation of a tangible end product and subsequent feelings of success. In situations where a knitter produces something for someone else, there is the additional satisfaction of knowing they have helped another person. The mental health benefits of knitting also extend to helping with addiction recovery.10 Creative activities such as knitting help relieve boredom, which could assist patients in avoiding a relapse.

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From potential health benefits such as lowering blood pressure to reducing anxiety and depression, knitting is a low-cost activity that can be applied to a variety of health issues.

“There is a surprisingly large body of research showing the health benefits of knitting,” the report noted. “What is more surprising is how little known this research is.”

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References

  1. Knit for Peace. The health benefits of knitting. https://www.knitforpeace.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/The-Health-Benefits-of-Knitting-Preview.pdf. Accessed December 5, 2018.
  2. Riley J, Corkhill B, Morris C. The benefits of knitting for personal and social wellbeing in adulthood: findings from an international survey. Br J Occupational Ther. 2013;76(2):50-57.
  3. Galvin JA, Benson H, Drecko GR, Fricchione GL, Dusek JA. The relaxation response: reducing stress and improving cognition in healthy aging adults. Compliment Ther Clin Pract. 2006;12(3):186-191.
  4. Macfarlane AC. Stress-related musculoskeletal pain. Best Pract Clin Rheumatol. 2007;21(3):549-565.
  5. Kelly CG, Cudney S, Weinert C. Use of creative arts as a complimentary therapy by rural women coping with chronic illness. J Holistic Nurs. 2011;30(1):48-54.
  6. Geda YE, Topazian HM, Roberts LA, et al. Engaging in cognitive activies, aging, and mild cognitive impairment: a population-based study. J Neuropschiatry Clin Neurosci. 2011;23(2):149-154.
  7. Perissinotto CM, Cenzer IS, Covinsky KE. Loneliness in older persons. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(14):1078-1084.
  8. Burholt V, Schrf T. Poor health and loneliness in later life: the role of depressive symptoms, social resources, and rural environments. J Gerontol. 2013;69(2):311-324.
  9. Steptoe A, Shankar A, Demakakos P, Wardle J. Social isolation, loneliness, and all-cause mortality in older men and women. PNAS. 2013;110(15):5797-5801.
  10. Duffy K. Knitting through recovery one stitch at a time. J Groups Addiction Recovery. 2008;2(1):67-83.

This article originally appeared on Medical Bag