Four Reasons Why Knitting Is Good For You

Not so long ago, I went into my colleagues’ office and declared I was going to propose a research project for an upcoming professional learning day.

“Who’s going to join my project on Knitting for Mindfulness and Community Connection?” I asked.

Surprisingly (or, hopefully, unsurprisingly), I had a lot of support. The only down side is that I’m pretty sure Knitting for Mindfulness and Community Connection is not a priority in a school. People tend to want to focus on topics such as curriculum or anything related to the whole teaching process. You know, the actual focus of a school. It’s a shame, because I reckon my project would do a lot of good.

Doris loved knitting at meetings so much that she’d attend them regardless of whether she was invited or not, just for a good sit down and a knit.

What’s so good about knitting anyway?

If you’ve been following along with me for a while, firstly, thank-you. It’s been great getting to know you. Secondly, I’m pretty sure you might already know the answer to that question. And if you don’t, read on!

For me, knitting is a way to connect with the past. I love my social history. Forget about kings and queens and all those stupid battles were peasants died and the rich learnt nothing. I want to know how those peasants lived. What they ate. What people wore and how they made it.

Beach holidays just weren’t complete until Hilda had lost at least two balls of wool in the sand.

Knitting allows me to touch the past, albeit a slightly more recent past. Nothing thrills me more than knitting from a 1950s pattern and feeling as though I’m bringing a piece of that era back to life. And few things make me smile more than hand-written notes in a thrifted knitting pattern, letting me know that I’m following along in another knitter’s footsteps. Or stitches, to be more accurate.

For a while there, I thought this was the best thing about knitting. However, it turns out that while I’m getting all excited about knitting with ghosts, knitting itself is doing fantastic things to me.

Knitting keeps your brain active

I seriously love my brain. I love the way it works, even when it’s trying to keep going at 1am in the morning, triggering a series of negotiations along the lines of Shut-up, please, I really need to sleep. Although my brain and I differ on ideal sleep patterns, we both nothing more than settling down for an extended knitting session.

The good news is that, even though it might look as though I’m patiently constructing the front of a cardigan, what I’m actually doing is reducing my risk of cognitive impairment later in life. According to a 2011 study, reading and playing music are great for the brain, but only activities such as knitting keep it in tip-top shape and stave off age-related loss of function.

The thing is, knitting is a wonderfully contradictory combination of an activity that calms the mind whilst also strengthening it. While the repetitive actions soothe you, other parts of your brain are occupied with imagining what the finished garment will look like and yet others are focussed on how good it will feel to complete such a huge achievement. It’s a whole-brain workout!

This comprehensive brain exercise session is doing amazing things for your fine motor skills, thanks to fact that almost every part of your brain is engaged while you knit. Here’s a run-down of exactly what’s going on, as Kathryn Harper explains in her Lifehack article on knitting:

… the frontal lobe (which guides rewards processing, attention and planning), the parietal lobe (which handles sensory information and spatial navigation), the occipital lobe (which processes visual information), the temporal lobe (which is involved in storing memories and interpreting language and meaning) and the cerebellum (which coordinates precision and timing of movement) …  (Click here to read the whole article.)

On top of essentially running an aerobics class for your entire brain, knitting also has the capacity to distract you from minor pain and to reinforce your fine motor skills, which are essential to remaining dexterous as you grow older.

So I’ll soon have a cosy Winter cardigan and I’ll have laid down some solid brainy foundations for my geriatric years. That is the very definition of winning.

Knitting is great for introverts

Take it from me: knitting is an excellent ice-breaker for introverts. As a classic introvert, I’m rubbish at small talk. I hate it. It feels disingenuous to me. And then I feel pretentious for using a word such as disingenuous. One sure-fire way for me to talk easily to someone is to have a topic already to hand. Forget about the weather or the current state of politics or whether the bus is ever going to turn up; let’s talk about knitting instead.

Where I wouldn’t walk into a room of strangers empty-handed, I’ll happily join one if everyone’s knitting.

You want me to sit in a room with you and knit socks until we run out of wool? That’s my kind of night out!

It’s a bit like a shield. If I know I can go somewhere and talk about knitting and have everyone understand the misery of finding a mistake in your lace pattern ten rows back, then I feel much more comfortable. I’m more likely to be myself in those conditions.

Then there’s the fact that people who don’t knit seem to look upon it as a kind of magic. (Which it is, really. You take a ball of wool and a couple of sticks and turn it into a thing you can wear! And while it’s not as quick as waving a wand about and saying a magic word, it’s still pretty impressive.) Many a time I’ve sat and knitted during a break at work, conscious of the fact that someone was staring at my knitting fingers intently.

People will ask you what you’re knitting, or tell you stories of items that were knitted for them. My nana used to knit… Or, I wish I could knit… Or, How do you tell the difference between knitting and crochet?

Conversation starters, the lot of them. That’s my sort of small talk.

Knitting keeps you calm

You see articles everywhere claiming that knitting is the new yoga or the new meditation or the new quinoa…

Comparatives aside, knitting really does pull you into the moment.

Even though you can quite easily knit whilst watching Netflix or paying attention at a meeting or even while chatting with other knitters, on some level you are still focussed on your knitting. You think of getting to the end of the row. You recall where you are in your cable pattern repeat. You focus on keeping a regular tension and you enjoy the slow progress of your garment.

Wilfrid loved traffic jams: the slower the traffic moved, the more progress he could make on his latest vest.

Your thoughts are in the present, caught up in stitches and yarn. There’s little opportunity for you to worry about your problems because your brain’s having too much fun getting all that synpasy exercise and enjoying little euphoric bursts of achievement.

As great as your brain is, it can only focus on one thing at a time. And when you let it focus on your knitting, you’re doing brilliant things for your well-being, as the people at Stitchlinks have proven. Click here to read some of the feedback they’ve received on their therapeutic knitting sessions.

If that’s not enough proof for you, then you need to read about Project Knitwell (possibly the best-named project in the history of ever). Project Knitwell was set up to monitor the mental health and work stresses of nurses in an oncology ward. Spoiler alert: knitting made them all feel better and provided them with an escape from the trauma of their work.

If knitting can help people who work with cancer patients on a daily basis, imagine what it can do for you. Or is already doing for you, as I hope is the case.

So if you’re worried that you can’t contort yourself into the simplest of yoga poses, try cable stitch instead.

Can’t meditate to save yourself? Try a bit of easy-going stocking stitch.

Can’t stop thinking about your worries? Try casting on a sock!

Forget about fixing yourself a goji berry smoothie in your mason jar; get out the needles and yarn instead. Who needs super foods when you can have a super craft instead? And you can reward yourself with a nice hat at the end of it.

Knitting is good for your hands

You’d think that all of those repetitive motions would cause RSI or arthritis or do some sort of damage to your joints, wouldn’t you? Nope. Not even close. It’s actually good for you. Just have a look at this quote from Alton Barron, doctor and knitting aficionado:

Moving the joints of the fingers forces fluid to move in and out of the surrounding, sponge-like cartilage, keeping the joints well-hydrated and minimising the risk of arthritis. (Click here to read more.)

And yes, while it’s not entirely pleasant to be thinking of all that fluid moving around in our fingers while we knit, we should definitely think of the benefits it provides. While knitting is setting up our brains for good stuff, it’s also keeping our fingers in stunning condition.

(If you’re worried about being a little sedentary while knitting, fret no longer: Phil at The Twisted Yarn proves it’s more than possible to knit whilst walking. No guarantees about not running into lamp-posts, however.)

Evangeline hoped her smile hid the fact that she’d completely forgotten what she was knitting while she walked around the block and had quite possibly knitted two socks with a jumper front attached.

Everyone should knit

Everyone should knit. It’s that simple. I don’t care if you’re young or old or male or female, you should get out there and knit. It’s good for you in so many ways.

In fact, maybe I should go in to work tomorrow and propose my Knitting for Mindfulness and Community Connection after all.

Want to learn to knit?

While I wish I could gather you all around to my place for a cuppa and a knitting session, I just can’t! The airline fares would be prohibitively expensive, for a start. So as we wait for cheap and instantaneous transport to exist, I recommend checking out Very Pink Knits on YouTube and beginning your journey to a better brain and a wardrobe full of knits. Click here to learn all the skills you need to make a scarf: Very Pink Knits – Learn how to make your first scarf.

Image Credits: 1, 2, 4 & 5 link, 3 link.

12 thoughts on “Four Reasons Why Knitting Is Good For You

  1. Go for it Katie. Offer something useful and energising for a change! So much of what you’ve written resonates with me, I love knitting so I can go into the “zone” and relax. Must admit I don’t do challenging stuff, I just want to knit! Now only do small things as it’s more about the knitting than the item.
    Thanks for writing this as it shows theres so much more to knitting than rubbing 2 sticks together!!

    1. I still think it would be a fantastic idea and a great way to meet members of staff who wouldn’t normally have much to do with each other. Think of the wonderful things it would do for wellbeing!

      You can use all of this info the next time someone suggests you’re not doing much while you knit. Little do they know you’re actually doing a whole-brain exercise at the same time. 😀

  2. Hi Katie, this is a brilliant article. You are a wonderful writer 🙂 It’s lovely to think of crafts connecting us to our social history. I have lots of old sewing books and like to imagine generations of women – and some men too I hope- looking through them to learn new stitches and techniques. I also agree knitting is good for the brain. I tried to knit a collar recently which was quite complex for me. My mum overheard me giving myself a pep talk and joked “you are not trying to land a plane Lizzie!” It’s a good job as I had already started again three times at that point! x

    1. Hi Lizzie and thanks for being my inadvertent comment-tester! 🙂

      Old sewing books are fantastic, especially the ones with notes. I bought a book on pattern cutting a while back and it contained a negative of a lady standing in front of a gorgeous house wearing a shirt dress. I continue to hope that it’s a dress she made using the instructions in the book.

      Knitting is such a great challenge for the brain – I love it. Finally, all of those maths lessons are coming in handy again!

  3. Small talk is required for situations when there is nothing else to say. As an interesting and friendly person, it seems to me like you wouldn’t have to use it that much? (I must admit to loving it myself though – isn’t that what changeable weather is for, to talk about? I also witter to anyone at the bus stop.)

    Anyway, I have been watching your podcasts which I find really engaging (and many simply are not). I find it fascinating that people mistake introversion for being quiet or shy because although it might be the case, many introverts are very happy and confident in their own skins (and don’t need others to make them feel that way – a bonus!) Whether you are extrovert or introvert is largely what motivates your behaviour. You can be a shy extrovert or chatty introvert who enjoys being with people but is looking forward to going home and being alone to recharge.

    Loving your writing as much as your podcasting; it’s so good that you have thoughts and opinions to share with us. I love seeing your latest makes and sharing your enthusiasm (animation and enthusiasm are underrated – they make everything worth hearing about and interesting). You are friendly, vibrant and chatty and I am really enjoying it, so thank you very much 🙂

    I used to feel exactly as you do about social history – and still do, I must however, admit to rather liking the kings and queens too these days.

    I seem to have digressed from the topic of your lively discussion on knitting benefits. I couldn’t agree more. It gives your hands a work out, soothes your emotions and gives the mathematically discouraged and challenged (me) some hope and encouragement when I get it right. Feeding my brain cells has to be a bonus.

    1. Hello, Sara! Thank-you for writing such a lovely response – I read it late at night after a rather long day at work and your words were a wonderful way to end the day.

      I promise you, I’m terrible at small talk. If I ever have to meet people and I know nothing about them or have no idea what to talk about, then I tend to sit there like a bump on a log, desperately scanning my imagination for something to say. It’s terrible! And then I always think of that scene in Pride and Prejudice where Darcy is saying he’s awful at talking to strangers and Lizzie tells him he should practise. It’s not that easy, Lizzie!

      You are right about shyness and introversion being quite different things. I used to think I was shy, but now I know I’m just introverted and I am fine with that! It’s why I appreciate people who are good at small talk – like you! – because, whether they know it or not, they’re a great help to me.

      Thank-you for your compliments on my vlogs, too. I love doing them! And I love that people don’t mind when I ramble on about knitting or sewing or my excessive vintage knitting pattern stash. (This is my first weekend of not doing a video, as per my new fortnightly schedule, and I’m feeling deprived. I’m missing it more than I thought I would, although I have managed to cut out most of the parts of a skirt, so it has aided my sewing productivity.)

      And yes, I was already fond of knitting and prepared to do it for the rest of my natural life, but now I have an extra level of dedication to it.

  4. What an inspirational post! You’ve definitely upped my resolve to learn to knit this winter. And I think your proposal sounds like just what the world needs – would love to hear how it goes!

    1. Thanks! I’m so glad to hear you’re keen to learn to knit. It’s a fantastic and fun skill and I must admit I was delighted to discover it’s good for you, too. (I’m working on trying to get my immediate colleagues to take up knitting – I’ll get them all on to it eventually. 😀 )

  5. You should absolutely propose your workshop. Knitting is excellent for the mind and can be fabulous for the fingers. I will insert one word of caution from my massage therapist, who keeps my Knitting Arms in peak condition. She says that a knitter should have several projects in different gauges on the go at all times, and that said knitter should vary the projects so as to work different muscles. Who knew? She says that one who observes this dictum (and, of course, takes frequent breaks to stretch) will be more likely to avoid the dreaded Carpal Tunnel Issues that can come from repetitive hand movements.
    I also highly recommend taking your knitting to parties. (Make sure that it’s knitting you can execute while chatting.) I find it helps me not to drink my cocktails too quickly. It really doesn’t take one’s friends at all long to get used to it. At this point, if I do not pull my knitting out when chatting with friends, they ask, “Where’s your knitting?”

    (Also, how do I sign in so that I can leave a comment under my WordPress profile?)

    1. This is great news: I love to have two projects on the go at all times! I haven’t been doing it of late, but I clearly need to re-instate that practice.

      It’s fantastic that your friends view you and your knitting as one entity! It’s much the same for me at work – I knit so often during my lunchbreak that people get confused if I’m not sitting there with my knitting in my hands.

      (I did have the blog set up so people could use their wordpress login, but it seemed to be causing hassles with commenting. Sorry for the inconvenience.)

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