Creative pursuits can ease stress, boost well-being, and protect your brain.
Whether you enjoy woodworking, cooking, knitting, or DIY projects, pursuing such passions each day isn't an indulgence—it's part of the blueprint for a healthy life. "Creativity is good for both mood and mind," says Carrie Barron, M.D., a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst and co-author of The Creativity Cure. "A meaningful project can conjure calm, playfulness, pride, insight, and a feeling of connection."
Here, we reveal the surprising benefits of engaging in your favorite hobbies.
Boost your brainpower.
Keeping your mind active may delay cognitive decline and encourage the growth of new neurons. In a Mayo Clinic study, people who participated in crafting in their middle years and beyond were nearly half as likely to develop memory loss and thinking problems known as mild cognitive impairment.
In a survey conducted by the Craft Yarn Council, many respondents said that knitting and crocheting enhanced their concentration and ability to problem solve. "When our hands are busy and our mind lets go, solutions to problems can emerge," says Barron.
Improve your outlook.
Crafting can increase the production of the mood-lifting neurotransmitter dopamine. In a worldwide survey of knitters, more than 80 percent of those who had depression reported that the craft made them feel happier. Those with anxiety also felt better able to cope with stress. Dr. Barron has seen similar results in her practice. "Patients and friends have often talked about feeling better when they play a flute, fix a sink, or knit a sweater," she says.
Boost overall health.
Do you lose track of time when you're crafting? You've likely entered a state called flow, which in many ways mimics the effects of meditation. Among other health benefits, meditation has been found to reduce blood pressure and boost the immune response. The rote movements of such activities as knitting and sewing can also help lower your heart rate and stress levels.
Widen your social circle.
Having a hobby often helps people find new friends. Consider joining a group of like-minded crafters, taking a class in the subject, or donating your wares. "Gifts of handmade meals, paintings, and mittens give pleasure to others as well as ourselves," says Dr. Barron.
Everyone has creativity, says Dr. Barron. It's merely a matter of finding what inspires and fulfills you. "Be curious. Don't worry about the outcome," she advises. "Be open to anything that you find interesting, even if it's outside your usual realm." If you're not sure where to start, try revisiting interests from earlier in life. Perhaps you took voice lessons as a child or enjoyed painting in college. You may find that you're still creatively connected to those activities.