Most people know Perri Klass, MD, as the pediatrician-writer, author of many nonfictional and fictional books, including A Not Entirely Benign Procedure: Four Years as a Medical Student. Some of us, though, also know Dr. Klass is a knitter. Being a knitting addict myself, and having read Dr. Klass’s essays on knitting, this is my primary image of her.
In an article she wrote for the Fall 1996 issue of Knitter’s Magazine, Dr. Klass wrote that Medical lives are busy, overstressed-and, for the most part, full of waiting time, lectured-at-time, ideal times for knitting. Many knitters find that knitting can help keep them focused during staff meetings or classes. As a pediatrician, Klass notes that she often waits to be called into the delivery room, and comments that other hospital physicians may face similar down time, in the emergency room in the middle of the night, the intensive care unit when you’re waiting for a patient to arrive. Patients, too, may find knitting a more soothing (and productive) way to spend waiting-room time than reading magazines.
As well as keeping idle hands occupied, knitting may confer health benefits. Dr. Herbert Benson, founder and president of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute and author of The Relaxation Response, recommends the repetition of a word, sound, phrase, prayer, or muscular activity to elicit the relaxation response-decreased heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. Even the most complex knitting patterns are usually repetitive, and all are based on only two stitches, knit and purl. While some patterns-complicated lace, for example-can occasionally raise rather than lower a knitter’s blood pressure, most stitch patterns, once mastered, are truly meditative.
There is also some evidence that knitting and other creative or social activities can keep our brains as well as our fingers nimble; the authors of a study of a cohort of 2,040 people 65 and older concluded 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. I would speculate that this may be related not only to knitting’s ability to bring on the relaxation response but also to its creative aspects, which can include designing patterns from scratch, from conceptualizing a design to doing the math necessary to formulate the pattern. (A similar, if more grim, description of the benefits of knitting for older people is documented by Anne L. McDonald in No Idle Hands. She writes that Ann Stephens, in her 1854 book Ladies Complete Guide to Crochet, Fancy Knitting, and Needlework, advised young women not only to take up knitting but also to practice with their eyes shut, in preparation for that ‘dark day when eyesight begins to fail [when] the stocking wire and nimble fingers will be found a great resource against unwilling idleness.)
There are some health risks associated with knitting. The particularly avid or the production knitter runs the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. And of course there is always the danger posed by the absentminded knitter who leaves her or his needles unattended on a couch or chair. But for those of us who knit, the benefits outweigh the risks; for us, knitting is the perfect antidote to life in the hurried and harried world. It offers a very tangible way to connect with the past and to create something truly useful as well as beautiful. In a world whose technological advances-food processors, bread machines, online books-have deprived us of many of life’s tactile pleasures, the feeling of wool or cotton yarn and the steady repetition of stitch after stitch is a restorative tonic, producing not a virtual something that can be altered with a single click, but a real and tangible something….
DITTRICH, LISA R. (ACADEMIC MEDICINE)
Knitting And Crochet Offer Long-term Health Benefits
Whether in relieving daily stress, lowering blood pressure or managing chronic pain, new studies are exploring and applauding the health benefits of knitting, crochet and other rhythmic needlework.
New studies show that knitting, crochet and other repetitive needlework provide a number of invaluable health benefits. Since 2005, ex-senior physiotherapist Betsan Corkhill collected anectodal evidence and launched a collaborative study with scientists at many different universities on the role of knitting in health. They found that such rhythmic repetitive acts help prevent and manage stress, pain and depression, which in turn strengthens the body’s immune system.
Stress exacerbates most medical conditions and is known to be a contributing factor in heart disease, depression and other chronic illness. In our increasingly stressful lives, doctors are advising people to manage stress as part of overall health. Knitting, crochet and other needlework have been found to be an effective way for people to manage stress and depression, and have been especially useful for those in long-term pain management. Pain specialist Monica Baird explains that the action of knitting actually changes brain chemistry, decreasing stress hormones and increasing feel-good serotonin and dopamine.
Many argue that the repetitive movements of knitting activate the same areas in the brain as meditation and yoga, which have been shown to help prevent pain and depression. Dr. Herbert Bendon, Director of the Institute for Mind, Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School notes that knitting is one method to create a “relaxation response” in the body, which can lower blood pressure, heart rate and help prevent illness. Knitting and crochet have a calming effect overall which can help manage anxiety and may even help conditions such an asthma or panic attacks. Additionally, the repetitive movements have been shown to help manage disruptive behavior and ADHD in children.
FaveCrafts.com offers a wide variety of free crochet and knitting patterns for people to enjoy and help relieve stress for better health. Extensive Beginners Guides with videos and pictures help newcomers tackle the essential techniques of each skill. The best thing about this craft is that you can take your project on a train, bus or airplane to alleviate the stress of travel. As you have read, such simple efforts can have profound health benefits.
For additional information on knitting and crochet, please contact FaveCrafts.com editor Caley Walsh.
Favecrafts.com is an exciting resource for all things craft — from expert tips to project ideas for every style and skill level. Prime Publishing LLC was established in 1995 as a traditional niche book publishing company. The company created their first web site in 1996. By 1998, the company had over 500,000 opt-in e-mail subscribers to various women focused niche content newsletters and web sites. Today, we are an Internet Media Company that operates web site communities and e-mail newsletters in niche areas such as crafting, home décor, wellness, diet and cooking.
Caley Walsh, Editor
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