By Rachel Moss
Knitting could save the NHS vital funds because it leads to a healthier population, reducing depression and anxiety, slowing the onset of dementiaand distracting from chronic pain, a new report has found.
The findings, published by initiative Knit for Peace, offers an extensive review of previous studies into the physical and mental health benefits of knitting. Knit for Peace, which has a network of 15,000 knitters in the UK who “knit for those in need”, also conducted a survey of 1,000 of its members about their experiences.
“There is an enormous amount of research showing that knitting has physical and mental health benefits, that it slows the onset of dementia, combats depression and distracts from chronic pain. It is an activity that can be continued into extreme old age,” the report revealed. “It is a sociable activity that helps overcome isolation and loneliness, too often a feature of old age. It is a skill that can continue when sight and strength are diminished.”
Using a £50,000 grant from the Big Lottery Accelerating Ideas Fund, researchers working with Knit for Peace conducted a review of previous studies into the health benefits of knitting.
Research from 2007 at Harvard Medical School’s Mind and Body Institute found knitting induces the body’s natural relaxation response and lowers the heart rate by an average of 11 beats per minute. Because of this, it found blood pressure drops when knitting.
What’s more, a 2012 study from the Mayo Clinic examined the effects of activities including knitting, quilting and playing games in 1,321 older people, nearly 200 of whom had mild cognitive impairment and were in the intermediate stage between normal ageing and dementia. The researchers found that those who engaged in crafting, computer activities, knitting and reading books were 30-50% less likely to have mild cognitive impairment than those who did not.
The review of studies also linked knitting to:
• Reducing depression and anxiety
• Distracting from chronic pain
• Increasing a sense of wellbeing
• Reducing loneliness and isolation
• Increasing sense of usefulness and inclusion in society.
The findings in the study review are supported by Knit for Peace’s survey of its own members, 70% of whom are over the age of 60. The initiative unites knitters across the UK who make creations that are distributed to over 200 outlets, including hospitals, women’s refuges, refugee drop in centres, prisons, community groups, hospices and developing countries.
The majority (70%) of respondents stated they believe knitting improves their health, with the main reason (86%) being that it helps them to feel relaxed.
One in 10 participants (10.7%) said knitting helps them deal with chronic pain, with almost one in six (14.3%) saying it relaxes their muscles while one fifth (21.4%) believe it helps relieve the pain of arthritis.
More than a quarter (26.1%) also attributed knitting to helping them reduce their blood pressure, usually because of the calming, therapeutic nature of the hobby.
One case study, named in the report as Sarah R, described how knitting helped her to stop smoking and lose weight. “[It] keeps hands busy, so I’m not snacking in the evenings when watching TV. I dropped two dress sizes in my first year of knitting. It was also a useful aid in helping to stop me smoking and I think knitting would help more addictions generally,” she said.
According to a report from Age UK and The Campaign to End Loneliness, 1.2 million older people are termed ‘chronically lonely’ at any given time in the UK. The latest report suggests knitting could help combat this, with knitting groups providing a sense of community while individual knitting helps pass time enjoyably. More than half (64.8%) of the Knit for Peace community said taking part in the initiative “makes them feel useful”.
One case study, Beryl H, who is over the age of 85, said: “I can now only manage to knit children’s jumpers. I like doing it as it’s the only thing left that I can do in which I am productive and contributing as I live in a nursing home. It is something, which staff and other residents can talk with me about and it helps ease my pain.”
Based on the findings, the researchers suggest knitting could “save the NHS funds” as “a more resilient ageing population is happier and makes less
demands on the NHS and is less dependent on care”.