How Knitting, Sewing Benefit Your Health

While knitting and sewing are commonly viewed as hobbies taken up by the elderly, the activity may be particularly helpful for anyone who experiences stress, anxiety, and similar problems. Many have taken an interest in exploring the therapeutic nature of the simple, leisurely activity involving needle and thread.

Consider the findings of one study published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy. In the survey of more than 3,500 knitters, around 81 percent of respondents said they felt happier and more relaxed thanks to the activity.

The researchers noted that there was "a significant relationship" between the frequency of the activity and calmness, with frequent knitters also reporting higher cognitive functioning. "Knitting has significant psychological and social benefits, which can contribute to wellbeing and quality of life. As a skilled and creative occupation, it has therapeutic potential — an area requiring further research," they wrote.

This was echoed in the United Kingdom in 2018 when a report encouraged knitting to be prescribed to patients. Aside from saving millions of pounds for the NHS, taking up the hobby could potentially have physical health benefits too. Those who suffered from arthritis, for instance, said the activity distracted them from the chronic pain of the condition.

As a tool of distraction, it can also help in reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation, a common problem faced by older adults. Smokers have also reported how knitting helped them control the tendency to reach for cigarettes because the activity keeps their hands occupied.

Catherine Carey Levisay, a clinical neuropsychologist, told CNN that crafting activities are also unique in how they can involve various areas of the brain simultaneously — memory, attention span, visuospatial processing, problem-solving, and more.

And how does it make us feel happier? Knitting, like many activities that involve creating or building something from scratch, triggers the release of dopamine by the brain. Levisay pointed out that the neurotransmitter is a natural anti-depressant for us. "Any time we can find a nonmedicinal way to stimulate that reward center," she said, "the better off we're going to be."

While this can also be linked to other creative hobbies like painting or writing, the likes of sewing and knitting differ in the creation process. They are less spontaneous as they mostly involve a repetitive motion, something which can help boost serotonin levels in the brain.

There is, of course, a sense of accomplishment that comes with knitting a jumper or finally getting a difficult sewing pattern right. That as well as receiving praise and compliments from others on the final product can provide a feeling of satisfaction.

It is clear that leisurely activities, in general, should not be underestimated. Everything from knitting and quilting to reading and gaming have been associated with a reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment. "The hypothesis is that the more stimulating your environment is... the more you're increasing the complexity of the brain, the more you can afford to lose," Levisay added.