Last month I wrote an article called “Why bother knitting a scarf?” Much to my surprise, I received thousands of positive reactions from readers who share my love of homemade, local, and beautiful “slow fashion” items. Clearly, knitting is being embraced by people from all walks of life who benefit from its peaceful, relaxing repetition. It got me wondering – what’s really going on when people knit? Why is it so tremendously popular?
It turns out that knitting has incredible health benefits. It makes people feel good in just about every way. A bit of research has revealed a wide range of ways in which knitting helps humans cope, physically and mentally.
1. Knitting is used for therapy. It’s a powerful distractant, helping people manage long-term physical pain. For those who are depressed, knitting can motivate them to connect with the world. It is a conversation starter, allowing people to interact politely without making eye contact. It builds confidence and self-esteem.
2. Knitting is supremely relaxing, which is extremely important for reducing stress and anxiety. Dr. Herbert Benson, founder of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute, wrote The Relaxation Response, in which he recommends the repetition of a word, sound, phrase, prayer, or muscular activity to elicit “the relaxation response” – decreased heart rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure. Knitting is likened to meditation, sometimes described by knitters as “spiritual” and “Zen-like.”
3. Knitting connects people. By joining a knitting group, a solitary activity turns into a social one. One study, called “The Benefits of Knitting for Personal and Social Wellbeing in Adulthood” and published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy, found that “knitting in a group impacted significantly on perceived happiness, improved social contact, and communication with others.”
4. Knitting improves concentration and can provide an outlet for excessive energy. Toronto teacher Caleigh Murtaugh started a knitting club for 7- and 8-year-olds at a private boys’ school. It was a smashing success, with boys opting to stay in from recess to work on projects. Some were extremely hyper, but focusing on work with their hands helped them greatly and gave them a sense of accomplishment.
5. Knitting can reduce the risk of dementia. One study of over 2,000 seniors (65 years and older) found that “regular participation in social or leisure activities such as traveling, odd jobs, knitting, or gardening were associated with a lower risk of subsequent dementia.”
6. Knitting offers a break from busy schedules and a refreshing detox from a technology-saturated world. It gives many of us a rare chance to be alone with our thoughts.
7. Knitting makes people happy, from the people who knit to those who receive knitted items, and those who see knitting in their surroundings. Consider the popularity of “yarn-bombing,” the beautiful graffiti that uses yarn to decorate public spaces, filling them with happiness-inducing warmth and colour. No one can resist smiling at the sight of a knitted bus or tree!
Even professionals are catching on. Stitchlinks is a UK-based group that’s developing a network of knitting therapy groups in hospitals, GP practices, schools, workplaces, and care facilities. Its website states, “Therapeutic knitting [is] being formally acknowledged by leading clinicians and academics for [its] benefits in mainstream healthcare.”
Keep at it, all you knitters! Not only are you having fun, but you’re also knitting yourselves a happier, healthier life.