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The Science Is In: Your Crafty Hobby Is Good for You

Whether you already love to knit or want to learn, you’ll get a ton of benefits from picking up a new hobby.

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If you’re never without a set of knitting needles on hand or without a camera in your bag, you don’t need science to tell you that your favorite hobby is good for you. But science has proven it anyway. Cognitively stimulating hobbies like knitting aren’t just a good way to pass time, or for creating gifts that are both warming and heartwarming. Research shows that creative hobbies and activities can help improve cognitive function and manage anxiety.

You don’t have to be a quilting champ or sewing fanatic to reap the rewards; in fact, simply picking up a new hobby can be quite beneficial. One study enlisted 259 participants ranging in age from 60 to 90 to participate in a variety of activities, all of which were new to them. The activities (which required active learning and sustained activation of memory) included photography, in which a professional photographer instructor taught participants how to use cameras and develop digital editing skills; quilting, which an experienced quilting instructor who taught them basic skills and, eventually, complex projects; and a dual activity, which included training in both photography and quilting. There were also control groups: a social club in which participants took part in activities that didn’t require learning new skills; a placebo group that relied on existing knowledge or activities not linked to cognitive improvement; and a group that received no treatment at all. 

The results of the study revealed that after 14 weeks, the production-engagement activities—that is, the quilting, photography, and dual activity—produced a significant improvement in episodic memory. (Episodic memory, in case you’re wondering, is your ability to recall past experiences.) The photography, both alone and alongside quilting, showed the most drastic increase. On a broader scale, this experiment showed that engaging in novel, cognitively challenging activities—like knitting—might improve cognition in older adults.

Knitting in particular has shown great benefits. One survey of knitters in the U.K. found that women who knit report feeling happier. Another study of 38 women with anorexia found evidence that knitting may reduce anxiety and preoccupation (in their case, this was primarily with eating and weight). The authors credited the accessibility and simplicity of knitting: It’s easy to learn, inexpensive, can be done alone or during social interactions, and can give the knitter a sense of accomplishment and pride. And yet another study showed that knitting, particularly in a social setting, has the potential to aid well-being and ease chronic pain. If you’re a crafty person, consider this cause to keep up the good work. And if not? Here’s your reason to start.