Could Knitting Save the National Health Service?

Every year, the National Health Service spends more than 2 billion British pounds on blood pressure treatments, 300 million on antidepressants, and 26 million on dementia services to benefit ailing residents in the United Kingdom. The need for health funding has resulted in a true crisis for the NHS, which is currently unable to keep up with public needs. But recent research suggests that pills for chronic pain could easily be replaced with a prescription for “knit one, purl two.”

Crafting has become more popular in the United States, with 63% of American households enjoying craft time in 2017. Over in the U.K., an organization called Knit for Peace has found that knitting — particularly among seniors — could hold the key to major health improvements. Their report suggests that knitting lowers blood pressure, reduces depression, distracts from chronic pain, and even slows the onset of dementia diseases.

According to the findings, 70% of respondents felt knitting improved their health, with 86% saying knitting helps them feel relaxed (and, thereby, reduce stress). Over 10% of participants said knitting helped them deal with chronic pain, with one in six saying knitting relaxes their muscles and one-fifth of respondents saying knitting relieves arthritis pain. More than one-quarter of respondents felt knitting helped them to reduce their blood pressure. Other anecdotal evidence suggests knitting can help curb smoking and unhealthy eating habits.

Knitting also helps relieve senior loneliness, which is a real problem both in America and in the United Kingdom. In the U.K., an estimated 1.2 million older people are “chronically lonely” at any given time. But knitting could provide a solution by offering a sense of community, a reason to feel proud, and a way to pass the time. Approximately 64.8% of participants in the Knit for Peace study said that taking part in this community “makes them feel useful,” which is often just as an important health benefit as any in old age.

Alzheimer’s disease currently accounts for up to 80% of dementia diagnoses, but knitting has the potential to reduce all diagnoses in general. Even a 2012 Mayo Clinic study backs this theory up. Researchers found that elderly people who engaged in crafting, knitting, games, and reading were 30-50% less likely to have mild cognitive impairment compared to those who did not participate in these activities.

The recent report suggests that if the NHS prescribes knitting, rather than spending a colossal amount on costly medications, the savings could be substantial. Researchers stress that it could be an affordable way to help residents and that it’s time to think outside the box.

In the published study, the authors wrote: “Research has shown there is a growing crisis in primary care and with GP services in particular. Now is the time to adopt more imaginative and innovative approaches… A more resilient aging population is happier and makes less demands on the NHS and is less dependent on care.”

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