The Most Relaxing Hobby You Can Do, According to This Survey

We're all a little tense. Here's a simple, anxiety-soothing way to unwind—and a few more options if that's not the stress reliever you need.

It’s no secret that 2020 has been a tough year. Between the coronavirus pandemic, widespread protests over America’s long history of racism, rampant unemployment, and the impending election, there’s no shortage of stressors.

The American Psychological Association “Stress in America” monthly poll shows that though overall pandemic-related stress has stayed steady from April to July, feelings of anger and fear are on the rise. In July, 40 percent of respondents reported feeling frustrated; 24 percent, scared; and 18 percent, angry.

So what can you do to release the tension? Recent research identified the most relaxing hobby of them all: knitting.

Woman knitting while sitting by plant on chairMorsa Images/Getty Images

Relaxation is essential for good health

Maybe you’re the type of person who thrives under a little bit of stress. Perhaps deadlines motivate you or a packed schedule keeps you on task. But too much stress—especially the kind triggered by a pandemic or an upended work-life balance—is never a good thing.

“When the body feels attacked by stress, it activates the ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction, releasing adrenaline and increasing cortisol levels. Excessive exposure to these hormones can affect just about every system in the body,” says Dr. Charles Parks Richardson, MD, physician and founder of Cleveland Diabetes Care.

Deep relaxation can help you shift from “fight-or-flight” mode so that your body can rest and recharge from the inside out.

A search for the most relaxing hobby

Researchers at home, fashion, and craft community DIYs.com set out to find which hobby is most likely to reduce stress by lowering heart rate. A survey of 2,379 people revealed 20 common activities that people use to reduce stress. These hobbies included everything from gardening and cooking to hiking and tai chi.

Then, researchers asked 357 men and women ages 20 to 30 to complete 20 popular hobbies for several weeks while wearing a Fitbit activity tracker with a heart rate monitor. The data revealed which activities calmed participant’s heart rates the most, leading to relaxation.

The results found that those participants wielding knitting needles lowered their heart rate by an average of nearly 19 percent.

The link between relaxation and your heart rate

“When we are in the fight or flight response (our body’s way of preparing us to survive), we have a fast heartbeat, high blood pressure, slower digestion,” Dr. Richardson says.

This link between stress and a rapid heartbeat is the reason why the study’s researchers based their entire definition of relaxation on a lowered heart rate. Medical experts have also linked clinical anxiety with a risk of heart disease. (Stress and anxiety aren’t the same thing. Stress is the response to a demanding or threatening situation. Anxiety is where you have excessive worrying, even sometimes without a stressor.)

Since your heartbeat is likely to speed up when you’re stressed or panicky, the study highlighted activities that do the opposite—slowing and soothing your heart rate.

Is knitting really the best way to unwind?

The answer probably depends on your personal preference. While knitting lowered heart rates the most on average, you might prefer activities such as fishing (which landed second place for “most relaxing”) or calligraphy (a tie with blogging for third place).

There’s a second reason to second-guess knitting as the epitome of stress relief: Heart rate is not the only indicator of low stress or tension release.

“It is important to have … ‘healthy’ stress such as excitement from social events (and) daily exercise,” Richardson says. The National Institute of Mental Health backs this up by suggesting exercise—which raises your heart rate—as a way to cope with stress. (Find out what really happens to your body when you relax.)

Three more relaxing hobbies to try

Whether you want to try something new or resurrect a pre-pandemic hobby, you can choose from a variety of relaxing and heart rate-lowering activities. Consider these relaxing hobbies from the study.

Man fishing while sitting on chair at lakeCavan Images/Getty Images

Enjoy a day of fishing

The study’s research indicated that fishing is the second most relaxing hobby. While knitting decreased participants’ heart rates by about 18.75 percent, fishing slowed them by 10 percent.

Spending the day out on the lake, river, or pond can be truly meditative. A 2011 review of the research on the benefits of nature suggested that even the sounds and smells in the great outdoors have the power to boost your health and mood. (Learn the 7 best fish to eat—and 5 to avoid.)

Blog about your life

Many avid writers notice how journaling reduces stress. But what about blogging? Perhaps it’s the practice of letting feelings flow freely or simply the realization that you’re being heard, but this online form of journaling received a third-place tie for “most relaxing hobby.” The study indicated that blogging can decrease your resting heart rate by 7.5 percent on average.

Dr. Richardson noted that activities that include involvement with others—perhaps even over the internet—does make a difference in stress reduction. “Being around other people in a safe capacity is really important to avoid anxiety brought on by isolation,” he says.

Paint a picture

The study revealed that painting can lower your heart rate by about 3.75 percent on average. While it’s clear that grabbing your brushes and easel won’t ease your heartbeat in the same way that knitting might, painting could have other tension-relieving benefits.

A 2018 research review of art therapy found that over 80 percent of the trials resulted in stress relief for the participants. In other words, art soothes. Even coloring books for adults can be good for your health.

When it comes to relaxation, consistency is key

Dr. Richardson emphasized the importance of a release valve for the stress that builds up in daily life—especially in the middle of a pandemic.

“The circulatory system is heavily affected by stress and anxiety… It is very important for patients to control their blood pressure and continue to work out during the pandemic,” he cautioned, adding, “When our body remains in that state, in a state of chronic stress, it can cause health conditions like high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, and cardiovascular diseases.

In these stressful times, you must find ways to unwind. Whether you’re a knitting fiend or an avid runner—a hobby that did not fare well in the study because it raises your heart rate—the important thing is to release tension in a way that feels good for you. When you love your relaxing hobby, you’re more likely to spend time doing it.

Sources

Leandra Beabout
Leandra is an Indiana-based freelance journalist and content writer with a background in education. She has written for a variety of publications, including CNN, Lonely Planet, Greatist, and Fodor's Travel.