It is clear that crafting provides us with
more than just "something to do".
A 2010 survey reported that 56% of American households had participated in a craft or hobby during the past year. With over half of the United States involved in craft activities, you might wonder what benefits or effects these hobbies have on people.
It turns out that creative pastimes do impact a person's health, and in a positive way. We might first think of the practical perks - having a skill that is useful, marketable, or just something fun to do - but crafting can also offer both cognitive and emotional benefits for your health.
A 2010 study on elderly persons sought to observe the impact of certain activities on the aging brain. Over one thousand people ages 70-89 were studied to see how different pastimes affected their MCI, or mild cognitive impairment, which is the decline in brain function between what is expected with aging and more serious dementia. After studying and interviewing elderly people who participated in activities involving books, crafts, art, computer games, music, and social activities, the researchers found that craft activities were among those that significantly reduced chances of MCI.
Scientists believe that crafts aid your brain because of how it is stimulated while crafting. Therapist Sharon Gutman notes that many hobbies engage multiple parts of the brain, such as the frontal, parietal, occipital,and temporal lobes, and the cerebellum. Because all of these parts are active, it strengthens the neural connections and keeps them in good shape. This way, as a person ages, they have a buffer against illness, cognitive decline, and dementia.
Perhaps for most of us, the emotional benefits of our hobbies are a lot more tangible and evident in our daily life. It has long been known that doing the things we love makes us happy. Crafters know there is a certain joy and confidence that comes with creating something beautiful, expressing yourself, and just being able to say “I made that”.
The emotional benefits of sewing were evident for Charlie Wensley. In an article for Seamwork Magazine, she shared how she faced her diagnosis with postnatal depression with taking up a hobby. Wensley found that sewing kept her from being irritable or frantic and gave her something productive to focus on. She reported feeling a deeper sense of self and enjoyed becoming a part of the sewing community. Sewing translated into other parts of her life too; she says: “this flexibility with the rules and how one interprets them has opened my eyes and given me more confidence in my own way of doing things, not only as a person who sews, but also more widely in my life. Gradually, I don’t feel like an impostor or that I have to fit a certain mold, or subscribe to a certain parenting style. I can decide my own way of being a mother, my own way of being a role model to my children, rather than constantly bench-marking it to others or worrying I shouldn’t do something for fear of being judged. I have new confidence in my way being the right, or at the very least, an OK way.”
Science backs up Charlie Wensley’s experience. Many have noted the calming, therapeutic, and meditative effects of doing a craft. In one case, women with hospitalized cases of anorexia were taught to knit. 74% of them said that knitting for about an hour per day helped them to cope with fear and anxiety. Specialists tell us that when a person becomes absorbed and focused on one task, the nervous system cannot process the outside factors of stress and worry. They are in a state of meditation. Crafts can also be an antidepressant, as dopamine is released when you do activity that makes you happy.
After looking at the evidence, it is clear that crafting provides us with more than just "something to do". Creative hobbies contribute greatly to a person’s health. These activities strengthen the brain, making us better equipped for the effects of aging. They are a method for keeping us emotionally healthy through relaxation, self-discovery, and community. With hundreds of crafts to choose from, there is certainly a way for anybody to begin a hobby that could benefit their health for a lifetime!
Thanks for reading!
This was an assignment I wrote for my freshman English class at UNC last fall. Yes, I did a "two for one" with this paper so it could double as a blog post :)
College has kept me away from the blog for the past 9 months...so I'm very excited to get back to it this summer!
Geda, Yonas E. et. all. 2011. Engaging in Cognitive Activities, Aging, and Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Population-Based Study. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences. [cited 2015 Aug 27]; 23 (2): 6. Neuropsychology Online [Internet]. American Neuropsychiatric Association Publishing - Available from: http://neuro.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/jnp.23.2.jnp149#
Mascarelli, Amanda. 2014. Might Crafts Such as Knitting Offer Long-term Health Benefits? [internet]. The Washington Post; [cited 2015 Aug 27]. Available from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/might-crafts-such-as-knitting-offer-long-term-health-benefits/2014/04/21/d05a8d40-c3ef-11e3-b574-f8748871856a_story.html
Wensley, Charlie. 2015. Finding Me Again [internet]. Seamwork Magazine; [cited 2015 Sept 8]. Available from:https://media.seamworkmag.com/issues/2015/seamwork-2015-09.pdf
Wilson, Jacque. 2015. This is Your Brain on Crafting [Internet]. CNN; [cited 2015 Aug 27]. Available from: http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/25/health/brain-crafting-benefits/
2011. CHA Announces 2010 Craft Industry Statistics [Internet]. Craft and Hobby Association; [Cited 2015 Sept 7]. Available from: https://craftandhobby.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/cha-announces-2010-craft-industry-statistics/