How knitting can make your brain happier

Jan 21, 2016 at 2:00 p.m. ET
Image: Cat Amador

Knitting might possibly not only create new neural pathways as we develop the skill but may keep your neural connections growing, banishing stress and improving our moods.

For years, scientists believed that the brain was static. However, research has shown more recently that our brains are flexible and can adapt to their environment, even in old age — a concept called neuroplasticity. Learning new skills, or "training" the brain has shown to have an impact on the aging brain, even possibly delaying dementia. It keeps those pathways healthy. A recently published clinical trial shows that cognitive training can improve reasoning skills and the brain's processing speed for up to 10 years after training has been completed.

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Knitting can make us happier. In an online survey of more 3,545 knitters, by Betsan Corkhill, a UK-based knitting therapist who has done research on the therapeutic effects of knitting, more than half of respondents reported that knitting left them feeling "very happy." Many of the respondents said they knitted for the calm it brought them and for lowering stress levels. Corkhill’s study concluded, “Knitting has significant psychological and social benefits, which can contribute to well-being and quality of life.”

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Your brain can only focus on so many things at once, so when you occupy it with learning a new skill such as knitting, it doesn’t have space or energy to dwell on the things causing you stress and anxiety. How cool is that? These are the things I think about when I work with kids and knitting. Forming those positive pathways early and creating happier brains!

"There's promising evidence coming out to support what a lot of crafters have known anecdotally for quite some time," says Catherine Carey Levisay, a clinical neuropsychologist and wife of CEO John Levisay. "And that's that creating — whether it be through art, music, cooking, quilting, sewing, drawing, photography or cake decorating and so on — is beneficial to us in a number of important ways."

Don't worry if you are a winter knitter and stop for a while. Those connections do not just disappear during the summer. Just like riding a bike, it may take a little bit of practice to make it familiar again, but you don't lose the skill. So banish the blues, work out your brain and pick up the needles. I can attest first hand, it does a brain good!

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