My great-grandmother lived to be 100 years old. But she didn't get to her centenarian status only by exercising regularly, getting a good night's sleep, and sticking steadfastly to a balanced diet. (Although I don't deny that those are all wholesome practices not to be ignored.)
Her long-held secret to longevity? She knitted. She sewed. She crocheted. She quilted. She kept her hands busy and her mind as sharp as the needles she used in her crafts. She was a big believer in the power of creative hobbies, and her conviction kept her active from her youth into her golden years.
It turns out my great-grandmother was in good company: Craft-minded people happen to be the healthiest among us. Neuroscientists, occupational therapists, and other experts have long cited the therapeutic potential of habitual crafting.
1. It's a Mood-Booster (and Sadness-Buster)
Crafting makes us happier, according to British physiotherapist Betsan Corkhill. She pioneered the research into therapeutic knitting after noticing the positive effects that knitting had on her patients and decided to dig deeper. In her online survey of 3,545 knitters, published in The British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 81 percent of respondents described feeling happier after a knitting session. They saw it as a source for "relaxation, stress relief, and creativity," and more dedicated knitters reported higher cognitive functioning. Even in those who were clinically depressed, 54 percent said that knitting made them feel happier.
2. It Relieves Stress (and Calms the Senses)
Crafting helps us unwind. In another study sponsored by the American Home Sewing & Craft Association, Robert Reiner, Ph.D., of New York University Medical Center's psychiatry department found that sewing activities helped his subjects relax (as evidenced by their heart rate). But this is not just limited to textile work. Crafting is an exercise in mindfulness. Think about it: The repetitive motion of sewing a stitch or making a stroke with a paintbrush calms your state of mind. Barry Jacobs, Ph.D., of Princeton University has found in his extensive research on depression that repetitive movements enhance the release of serotonin, which brings you out of a bad mood.
As you work, your anxiety melts away as you focus your attention on the task at hand. We're lulled into a meditative state: one-two, one-two, one-two. The whole idea is actually kind of Zen when you think about it.
3. It Builds Self-Esteem and Communal Support
Crafting as a whole is both a creative and productive outlet. The process of envisioning, producing, and realizing a product to its final form boosts our sense of self-worth and encourages us to connect in social circles. And communal crafting comes with its own inherent benefits. Akin to a child showing her mother something she made in art class at school or friends swapping decoupage tips, crafting is like a single weaving thread in a sweater -- it keeps us connected to each other.
4. It Enhances Dexterity and Coordination
Crafting of all kinds undeniably has a physical bonus. Something as simple as threading a needle or deftly holding a pair of craft scissors is an exercise for your hands. These visual-spatial and hand-eye coordination skills are something we learn early on in kindergarten, but just as the "use it or lose it" adage goes, you lose these muscles over the years.
5. It Boosts Brainpower
Crafting might be the key to everlasting youth. Avid arts-and-crafters are able to slow down cognitive deterioration by stimulating the body as well as the mind. One study shows that keeping yourself in a crafty mind-set reduces your chance of developing mild cognitive impairment by as much as 50 percent. Similarly, a French study found that elderly people involved in leisurely activities -- including knitting, specifically -- are less likely to develop dementia. This includes Alzheimer's disease, believe it or not.
I'm sure that my great-grandmother would agree with researchers' findings. After all, I owe my early appreciation for handmade crafts (not to mention knowing how to properly sew on a button) to her. And while I consider myself passably crafty, I'm nowhere near the needlework artist that she was. I can only hope that I live a life as long and fulfilled as hers. (Keep calm and crochet on -- literally.)
Feeling inspired? Kick-start your health by trying your hand at one of our craft projects! Additionally, you can learn more secrets to living a healthy, fulfilled life by reading Martha's best-selling book, "Living the Good Long Life." It's chock-full of ideas that you can easily incorporate into every day life.