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Grow a Garden, Knit a Sweater, or Pound a Nail in the Service of Cognition
Dr. Patricia A. Farrell -- Psychologist Dr. Patricia A. Farrell -- Psychologist
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Tenafly, NJ
Saturday, March 30, 2024


Idle hands may mean you’re missing out on one of life’s hidden treasures, increasing your cognition.

Photo by Marina Ermakova on Unsplash

Exercise for the brain may come in unexpected activities that we have never considered brain-enhancing. How about knitting? And how would it benefit our brains? What is the mechanism here?

Knitting and weaving with simple tablets wasn’t simply a means of creativity and handling boredom for seamen on long voyages; it helped with memory and cognition. A number of handicrafts were not exclusively the province of women, and men were very much involved. Have you ever heard of Scrimshaw?

Now we know that knitting is more than simply working with a few needles, a bit of twine, or other knitting materials because research has revealed knitting's additional benefits—and they're incredible. Research has demonstrated that busy hands, whether engaged in knitting, painting, gardening, or other forms of physical activity, offer great benefits to anyone seeking relief from stress.

Knitting and crocheting, with their intricate stitch patterns and repetitive motions, are great mental exercises. They aid in the formation of new brain pathways, which improve memory and slow down the natural aging process.

In the famous "Nun Study," one nun, who lived to be 105, knitted booties for babies in the hospital every day. As I recall, she had finished a pair of booties on the day she died. The primary researcher in this study has written a book about his experiences and his exploration of age cognition, education level, learning, and Alzheimer's.

In an eight-week study of cancer survivors engaged in an exploratory knitting program, the promise of knitting to aid these patients with stress and cognition was shown. Perceived stress was moderately high at baseline. Improvements in psychomotor speed, cognitive flexibility, and perceived stress were statistically significant at post-testing. 38% and 25% of individuals showed clinically significant increases in attention and memory when demographic characteristics were considered. In a minimum of one cognitive category, 69% exhibited clinical improvement.

Another study found that twenty minutes of moderate-to-low-intensity gardening activity dramatically raised brain nerve growth factors BDNF and PDGF levels. This study offered scientific evidence of the therapeutic processes of gardening for memory and showed the ability of a brief gardening exercise to improve memory in older individuals. Gardening can be more than exercise because it is nurturing, and you promote a new life to come into the world or help it maintain its vibrance. Why not look at it that way instead of as exercising?

Gardening has also come into prominence in cardiac rehabilitation programs. In addition to being a good form of aerobic exercise, gardening enhances bone mineral density, muscle strength, flexibility, and balance. Therefore, it's not just busy hands and tending to flowers or vegetable gardens; it also helps us maintain blood pressure and cardiac functioning.

Older adults who had never learned to play musical instruments were entered into a short-term experiment in which they were taught to play a musical instrument. The results showed benefits, not simply in long-term memory but in general cognition. Therefore, learning to play a musical instrument helps maintain brain health in later years.

What about pounding nails? While looking at manipulating anything with the hands, the researchers have not specifically shown an activity of this type. However, carpentry or sculpting involving tools of some sort would be one area of study that should be explored for additional brain benefits in older or middle-aged adults. Creativity is always pleasurable, even when it doesn't turn out exactly as planned.

If an idle mind is the devil's workshop, get busy using your hands for your brain's benefit. This will keep your mind active and healthy.

Website: www.drfarrell.net

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Twitter: @drpatfarrell

Attribution of this material is appreciated.

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Dr. Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D.
Title: Licensed Psychologist
Group: Dr. Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D., LLC
Dateline: Tenafly, NJ United States
Cell Phone: 201-417-1827
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