Artist: Sarah Maloney Brain – detail Knitted cotton, stainless steel armature 35.6 x 35.6 x 152.4 cm 1998-99 Collection Beaverbrook Art Gallery
Knit one, purl two, less stress and eternal youth, woo-hoo!
Recent studies have shown that knitting is not only an awesome pastime that allows you to de-stress and kill some time, but it is also a great way to help keep your brain beach-bum-fit and at lower risk for illnesses like dementia (no wonder Madame Defarge was so clever!)
In a study with thousands of participants, 80% reported that knitting made them feel more calm, happy, and less stressed than before they took up the hobby. I know what you're thinking and no, it is not the abundance of scarves and kitten mittens that leads to these good feelings (although one can never have too many kitten mittens). Rather it’s the actual process of the needle loop stitch. It is the meticulous practice of something that is rhythmic and repetitive that really does the trick, so this de-stress effect can also be evoked by things like playing a musical instrument, arts and crafts, and crossword puzzles.
Basically when you're stressed by something whether it be work, your love life, or a shortage of cheese *shudder,* your somatic nervous system triggers a flight or fight response and releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that raise your heart rate, your blood pressure, glucose levels, and contract your muscles. While this is going on, your body’s resources are too busy regulating your stress response to monitor your immune system or your metabolism, making you more susceptible to disease and weight gain. In addition, this stress response damages DNA cells, which expedites ageing. Mindless activities like knitting distract the brain from the stress response and engage the parasympathetic nervous system which is involved with relaxing the body: decreasing blood pressure, relaxing muscles, and slowing breathing rate.
While knitting does distract us from our train of thought, it actually engages several areas of the brain involved in paying attention and planning, processing sensory and visual information, and timing and movement. Because it activates so many areas of the cerebral cortex at one time, it stimulates connections between nerve cells, keeping these connections quick and efficient. As we age the more we use these connections, the more nimble and dexterous our brains remain, and the less susceptible we are to dementia!
So keep doing your thing Zooey Deschanel and grandmas across the world (because at this rate, you may outlive us all!)