Knitting and other handcrafts are more popular than ever. And it’s thanks in no part to the health benefits you derive from it. The Craft Yarn Council reports that a third of women 25 to 35 now knit or crochet. And now men are starting to join in!
Dr. Herbert Benson, a pioneer in mind-body medicine and author of The Relaxation Response, says that the repetitive action of needlework can induce a relaxed state similar to that associated with meditation and yoga. Once you get beyond the initial learning curve, knitting and crocheting can lower heart rate and blood pressure and reduce harmful blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
But unlike meditation, craft activities result in tangible and often useful products that can enhance self-esteem. A good idea is to take pictures of your end products on your phone – look at them to boost your spirits.
Another benefit is that when you’re knitting or doing other hand work, you can’t mindlessly eat – this cuts down on snacking. And if you’re knitting, you can’t smoke! Another health benefit.
I recently knitted a pair of fingerless mitts to keep my hands warm this winter. It felt really good to do something productive in the evening rather than just watch TV!
Many years ago I dislocated my shoulder. I have never experienced pain like that! Think of an ice pick going through your shoulder and then twisting. And then grinding. And then pulling it out a little at a time. And then someone is bashing your shoulder over and over again. That’s the kind of pain. So severe I passed out from it. And then a few days later when I thought it was better, I dislocated it again in my sleep. The doctor said to cut out the aerobics for a while and do other strengthening exercises.
Over time the shoulder got stronger, and I could forget about the dislocations. I lift weights – probably baby weights to many people’s way of thinking, but they’re good for me.
And then a few days ago my shoulder started hurting again. I didn’t think anything of it, but it went on for several days. My mind started to worry at it – what if my shoulder dislocates again. Should I stop working out? Should I stop using weights?
But my brain kicked in and said, “Go easy. It’s not that kind of pain. Yes, it hurts, but the shoulder is not going to dislocate!” And my intelligent brain was right, rather than my panicked brain. I went a little easier, assessed what was going on and moved on. And now my shoulder is fine.
So, the take-away here is to know your body. Know the different kinds of pain that you experience. If something is new and scary, get it seen to. Get to know what muscle soreness is like. You’ll recognize it and move on.
We’re surrounded by our electronics and our devices. There is no escaping the fact that to live successfully in 2016, we need to be plugged into the world around us. It’s how we stay in touch with our friends, how we keep tabs on our kids, know if our flight is on time, how late the bus is going to be, how we get our news.
But once in a while we just need to unplug. Stop the noise. Get some peace back into our lives. Turn off the computer. Turn the phone off. Turn the TV off.
And then we can go about regaining our peace and sanity. Just sit for a few minutes with your eyes closed. Let the thoughts zoom through your mind. Acknowledge them but don’t take any action at all. Then open your eyes and read a book for 15 minutes. Cook your favorite meal without the TV blaring. Play with the dog for a while, or go for a walk with him. Or by yourself. Look at the trees, at the bushes, at the houses. Or just think about the things and people that make you happy.
It’s easy to become immersed in our technological world, but once in a while it’s important to live in our own head and figure out who we are inside.
When I was growing up, there was a lady who taught a yoga class on what is now our local PBS station (back then it was Channel 11). She wore a long-sleeved leotard and tights every day. My mom and I tried to follow along, and we did pretty well, except for the really hard arm balances. Lilias spent 27 years on PBS and is still practicing and teaching yoga online. And she’s the norm for yogis. People who regularly practice yoga just seem to not age. They seem healthier and happier than the population as a whole. Why is that?
For starters, yoga is great exercise. The physical benefits include increased strength, endurance, flexibility and balance. And some flow classes can really get your heart rate up too! And now studies have shown that yoga provides mental benefits as well.
Real Simple’s “Getting Fit For Life” blog 1/19/16 (http://www.realsimple.com/health/fitness-exercise/stretching-yoga/yoga-brain?xid=soc_socialflow_facebook_realsimple) cites new research published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice that suggests that yoga can help people manage bipolar disorder.
And it makes sense that yoga can help everyone de-stress. “The Mayo Clinic boasts yoga’s power to fight stress and improve moods for all. And the practice can offer a moment to escape from our busy lives. Research shows that mindfulness-based stress reduction, like that at yoga’s core, can help lower anxiety and stress. In a study at the University of California, Los Angeles, participants who practiced yoga for just 12 minutes every day for eight weeks showed a decrease in their immune systems’ inflammation response. When we’re overstressed, our bodies lose the ability to regulate our inflammatory response, which can lead to a long list of health problems, including a greater risk of depression. By lowering our stress levels, we can also lower the risk of depression.”
A study from the University of Illinois has shown that even brief (20 minute) sessions of hatha yoga can improve focus and information retention.
And yoga helps us live in the present moment, which tends to make us happier. So – let’s keep practicing yoga!
The wind chill is sub-zero, actually! How do you stay warm when it’s so cold outside? We’re told to keep our thermostats below 68 degrees. So we pile on the layers, so that we look like abominable snowmen! And then we can’t move, much less think! The answer is exercise! Start moving and start sweating! You’ll feel warmer. The more you move the warmer you’ll feel. And even when your workout is finished, you’ll feel the warming effects for a while.
But then what do you do? You can’t work out all day! Tone it down! I hop in place. Ten on each leg does it for me. That has the same effect as working out, plus I can do it at work. Once an hour or so I’ll stand up and start hopping. People may look at me like I’m crazy, but I don’t have to chug the hot chocolate! Nice hot soup is good at mealtime, and I love hot chocolate but can’t afford the calories.
One thing that hopping doesn’t do, though, is warm my hands. My hands freeze! (My feet are cold, too, but hopping helps them.) So I knitted myself a pair of fingerless mitts. My fingers are exposed, but it’s hard to type with full mittens. The mitts keep my wrists and most of my hands warmer, and that does help.
No doubt about it – some days are easier than others. One day you’ll do a workout and it’s a piece of cake. A couple of weeks later, I’ll do the same workout – same time of day, same conditions – and it’s really, really hard! I don’t know why, that’s just the way it is. It’s always been that way for me.
And some days I can balance on one foot really well and can hold the position for quite a while. And the next day I can hardly hold it for 2 seconds! I don’t know why – that’s just the way it is. I get the same amount of sleep. My diet is about the same. I usually practice my balance at about the same time every day. The weather is about the same. No reason! And some days after a particular workout my knees are fine. And after I do that workout again, my knees are killing me! Nothing is different – everything is the same and yet my result is totally different. I’m still getting the same fitness benefit, I’m sure, but the immediate physical effect is different. If I ever figure out the reason for this, I’ll pass it along!
The best way to exercise is to do it and not even realize you’re exercising! Many day-to-day activities can incorporate exercise. So you’ll get a double benefit. You’ll do the task you had to do, and you’ll exercise while doing it! This idea is especially useful when your schedule is so busy you can’t fit another thing in it!
For example – you have to walk to the garage to get in your car, right? Incorporate some toe-heel walking. Place the heel of your foot directly in front of and against the toe of your other foot. You’ve taken a step (okay, a small step) and you’ve exercised your balance. This is actually harder than it might seem, and it really does train your balance.
Another good functional exercise is to get up out of a chair without using your hands. Also harder than it might seem, and you’re strengthening your legs. Try it on one foot, and you’re doing all that and practicing your balance!
Try standing on your tip-toes and leaning to the side. Ever reach for something in a cabinet? That’s what you’re doing with this exercise.
Of course, no matter how you exercise, practice good posture – suck in your stomach and lengthen your spine!
We all have something we’re not great at. Something we wish we were better at. Do you have a weakness for chocolate? Can’t stop at one piece? Me too. I accept that. I love chocolate – the darker the better. It’s really easy to fall off the healthy nutrition wagon and go overboard with dark chocolate. After all, it’s good for us, right? Yes – in moderation! And that’s the key. One is good, two and more – not so much. I know this, and as much as it pains me, I make my chocolate hard to get at. I put it in a plastic baggie in the refrigerator. It’s there, and it’s still yummy, but the harder I have to work to get a piece, the more I will think about it. I’ll indulge myself with one piece, then put the rest back in the baggie in the refrigerator.
So, from this example, I’ve accepted the fact that I’m a chocoholic. I don’t let it rule or ruin my life. I eat chocolate in moderation – it doesn’t ruin the rest of my diet. And I’m working to space out the chocolate I eat. One day it will get easier to do that.
Don’t multitask with the important stuff. One thing at a time when it really counts. Finish a task and then move on to the next one. You’ll be able to finish that first task quicker, and better! When we think we’re multitasking, we’re really trying to focus on one thing, then another thing, and back to the first thing. It takes longer to switch our attention than to just focus on the task at hand. Say you’re writing a report and balancing your checkbook. You open a document for research, read a couple of sentences, and then try to add a couple of check amounts, then go back to your research. You’ll have to start over again because you forgot where you left off! I know it’s boring, and balancing your checkbook isn’t much better, but you’ll get both done quicker if you balance your checkbook then move on to your research for the report. Experts estimate that switching between tasks can cause a 40% loss in productivity. It can also cause you to introduce errors into whatever you’re working on, especially if one or more of your activities involves a lot of critical thinking. Are you always checking your email? Cut it out! It’s stressing you out. Check it at the beginning of the day, at lunch time and then in the middle of the afternoon. Reply to any crucial matters, then shut it down and move on to your next task. You’ll be happier and get more done!
How is your balance? No, really – how is it? Can you stand on one foot for 30 seconds? How about 15? No? Time to work on it.
As we get older, our balance can diminish. But as with most other things, we can improve our balance with practice. The more you test your balance, the better it gets! Just a couple of minutes practice a day will show remarkable improvement in just a week’s time.
Gradual changes linked to growing older—such as weak or inflexible muscles, slower reflexes, and worsening eyesight—affect the sense of balance. (Better Balance, Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School) You’ve experienced this. When you’re young, you can run along a curb and not have to take a step in the street. Now, even walking slowly it’s difficult to keep to that curb and not step in the street or on the grass next to the curb. And in the winter, we’re all scared of losing our balance and slipping on the ice.
But, it’s been shown that balance training programs reduced falls that caused injuries by 37%, falls leading to serious injuries by 43%, and broken bones by 61% (published online in the BMJ). So, while it’s important to exercise vigorously to improve our cardiovascular system, it’s also important to work on our balance!
My favorite multi-tasking balance exercise is to stand on one foot while brushing my teeth – switching every 30 seconds. Or 15 seconds, or 10 seconds. Be safe, though – make sure the sink is handy for holding onto if you need it! (Canine supervision is optional!) Or just stand next to a chair on one foot for a couple of seconds and then switch. Just do something to improve your balance!