It’s winter and you want to hole up inside and hibernate until the thaw comes, right? There are all sorts of things we can do inside — curl up with a good book, play Scrabble with the family, cook up some thick soup and bake bread, catch up on the seasons of Mad Men you missed when things got too busy two years ago.
But if you’re looking for an indoor activity that, researchers say, is really good for your health, try knitting. Yes! You heard that right: knitting is good for you!
I’m a knitter. I do it because it lowers my stress level the way repetitive activities are known to do. I go into a sort of meditative state when I knit. But lately, I’ve been worried about my left hand and a strange, new-to-me pain that shoots up to my elbow. There are lots of reasons to worry about mobility in the hands, but the first thing that I feared was that I might need to give up knitting.
And that would just completely change my happy vision for my life when I’m a very old woman. I have always pictured that time of my life as revolving around books and yarn, tea and cake. You see, I don’t have lots of time for these things at the moment (well, maybe for the tea and cake), so the luxury of time to knit and read is something I feel I’ll have earned by the time I’m in my eighties. So that pain lurking around in the left lower arm and hand threatened my very future.
How relieved I was to read this article about “The Health Benefits of Knitting.” The author, Jane Brody, is a knitter herself, and yes, she covers the usual ground of stress relief from repetitive action:
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.
And you produce a tangible product as a bonus — socks, sweaters, afghans, hats, mittens, scarves, shawls — the seasoned knitter has knit them all. That, the author says, can boost self-esteem (“look what I made!”).
Those benefits have prompted the Craft Yarn Council to launch a “Stitch away Stress” campaign to go along with National Stress Awareness Month. But those benefits aren’t all.
Brody points out that knitting can help people quit smoking by giving them something else to do with their hands. And trust me, if you’re spending time knitting something, you don’t want it to smell like smoke, either. Keeping the hands busy can also stop people from mindless snacking. From personal experience, I can attest too that I’m less likely to reach for potato chips when I’m knitting not just because my hands are busy but also because I don’t want to touch my handiwork with greasy fingers.
A study at the University of British Columbia found that knitting helped with the treatment of anorexia nervosa:
38 women with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa … 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.
Not only that, the focus that knitting involves has been found to help people manage chronic pain. And people with depression found that it helped with their mental anguish. According to the study, “the brain can process just so much at once, and that activities like knitting and crocheting make it harder for the brain to register pain signals.” Read more about this research on the therapeutic value of knitting at the Stitchlinks website.
And finally, to my great relief, Brody reports that:
I’ve found that my handiwork with yarn has helped my arthritic fingers remain more dexterous as I age. A woman encouraged to try knitting and crocheting after developing an autoimmune disease that caused a lot of hand pain reported on the Craft Yarn Council site that her hands are now less stiff and painful.
I don’t know if that niggling pain is the beginning of arthritis, but it’s good news that knitting can help with dexterity. Fingers crossed that I my future self will still be able to use those needles! And there’s some suggestion that knitting, like Sudoku, can help keep the mind sharp into the later years of life. Also good news!
Of course, it’s not quite the same as getting off the couch and going for a run or taking a yoga class, but the health benefits of knitting are such that, if you’re going to stay on the couch, it’s a pretty good option.
Maybe this winter I’ll finish that second sock I’ve been working on since 2014.