Arts and Crafts Projects Thought to Improve Brain Health

senior knitting

Recent research has shown a link between mental well-being and creative activities. They are finding that crafting projects, such as creating complex knitting patterns, may have the same benefits to the mind as cognitive activities, like crossword puzzles. They are also beginning to notice mental health benefits since the calm associated with painting or sculpting is similar to the relaxation one feels when they meditate. Arts and crafts may help protect the brain against aging-related cognitive decline, while also promoting happiness and stress reduction.

Have you ever been so involved in painting a piece of art, or knitting an elaborate pattern, that you don’t notice your thoughts or what was going on around you? This unadulterated focus is called “flow” by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and he describes this state as one of the purest forms of happiness and key to mental health. Csikszentmihalyi states that the human nervous system processes a limited amount of information at a given time. When in “flow”, the body does not have enough processing power to think about physical feelings, such as hunger, or negative emotions. Similar to meditation, flow can alleviate stress by calming anxious thoughts or feelings of agitation.

Crafting leads to the stress-reducing state of “flow” but also has anti-depressant potential since it can stimulate the release of dopamine in the brain’s reward center, giving feelings of pleasure. The British Journal of Occupational Therapy surveyed over 3,500 knitters and 81% of respondents with depression reported feeling happy after knitting, while 50% were very happy. This sense of joy and accomplishment continues further when the finished craft is given as a gift or put on display and admired by others.

In addition to making people happier, arts and crafts could have cognitive health benefits. Crafting can be an intellectually stimulating activity and is unique in that it involves many areas of the brain. For instance, creating a complex quilting pattern would work areas of the brain involved with attention span, creativity, visual-spatial processing and problem solving. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry published a study in 2011 stating that playing games, reading books, and crafting could potentially reduce the chances of developing mild cognitive impairment by 30-50%.

Although further research is needed, crafting is a great non-pharmaceutical way to alleviate anxiety, depression and stress while promoting brain health. To learn about other lifestyle factors that influence brain health, read Home Care Assistance’s latest book in its senior wellness series, The Brain Boost: A Practical Guide to Brain Health