Pursuits involving busy hand, such as knitting, are no longer nearly as popular as they once were in decades past. According to Kelly Lambert, a neuroscientist at the University of Richmond, that is regrettable because repetitive hand movements lead to healthier neurochemistry in the brain. Her recent research indicates activities like painting, woodworking and yard work promote mental health.
“I made up this term called ‘behaviorceuticals,’ instead of pharmaceuticals, in the sense that when we move and when we engage in activities, we change the neurochemistry of our brain in ways that a drug can change the neurochemistry of our brain,” Lambert told CBS News.
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Lambert has been studying the hand-brain connection using rodents. She found rats that had to dig for a reward showed better mental health than rats that were given a reward without working for it. The latter rats showed higher levels of stress hormones. She said this phenomenon shows why 19th century doctors advised women patients with anxiety to take up knitting — they believed it calmed them down.
Although knitting may seem like an unlikely brain stimulating activity, it fits the criteria needed to produce the benefits. “But when you think about, OK, repetitive movement is increasing certain neurochemicals. And then if you produce something — a hat or a scarf — there’s the reward,” Lambert added.
Our modern workplace of desk jobs is lacking something important — the opportunities to use our hands, Lambert explained. “We just sit there. And we press buttons. And you start to lose a sense of control over your environment. …If you’re making something and painting or cooking and putting things together, and you’re using both hands in a little bit more creative way, that’s going to be more engaging for the brain.”
Prior Research on Knitting
Lamberts’ findings build on a body of research that provides ample evidence of knitting’s positive effects. A 2013 study published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy discovered a significant link between knitting frequently and feeling happy and calm.
In a 2018 study published by Knit for Peace, scientists found the hobby slowed the onset of dementia and distracted from chronic pain, as well as decreased anxiety and depression. Moreover, the advantages extend to physical health, as a 2007 Harvard study revealed that knitting lowers heart rate by an average of 11 beats per minute.
Hands-On Activities Found to Reduce Depression
In Lambert’s earlier research, she discussed the brain’s “effort-driven rewards circuit,” which means when people work with their hands to produce tangible results, they experience a reduction in depression. She attributed the benefit to the fact that hand movements activate a larger area of the brain than movements of other body parts. Aside from knitting, Lambert said a wide range of pursuits could render the same effects, including gardening or any endeavor that involves making something that has meaning to its creator, such as drawing or sculpting.
The above discoveries don’t mean that people should abandon their desk jobs. Instead, experts recommend making it a priority to engage in hands-on activities in leisure hours. Choose endeavors that cater to your skills and interests. If you aren’t artistically inclined or have access to a garden, you might take on a home-improvement project rather than have it done by a handyman. Another example might be cooking a meal from scratch, instead of getting take-out food. The activity options that will produce the therapeutic benefits are numerous.
Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at http://www.alternativemedicinetruth.com. Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.