Good for the art: visits to cultural activities can lead to longer life, researchers from University College London say
Good for the art: visits to cultural activities can lead to longer life, researchers from University College London say

Trips to the theatre, museums and art galleries ‘key to a long life’, suggests study

Cultural experiences lowered the risk of dying early by as much as 31 per cent 

Chelsea Ritschel
Wednesday 18 December 2019 20:08

Regular visits to museums, the theatre, concerts and art galleries can lead to a longer life, new research suggests.

The study, published in the BMJ (British Medical Journal), found engaging with the arts every few months lowered the risk of dying early by as much as 31 per cent.

The benefits were also evident in those who only enjoyed cultural activities once or twice a year, with researchers identifying a 14 per cent reduced risk of dying during an average follow-up of 12 years, compared to those who never engaged with the arts.

According to the study, the findings were true even when factors such as marital status, employment, wealth, education and friendship groups were taken into account.

For the study, researchers from University College London asked 6,710 people, all over the age of 50, to list how frequently they engaged with the arts. The average age of respondents was 66 and the group was comprised of 54 per cent women.

Regarding the findings, the researchers concluded: “Receptive arts engagement could have a protective association with longevity in older adults.

“This association might be partly explained by differences in cognition, mental health and physical activity among those who do and do not engage in the arts, but remains even when the model is adjusted for these factors.”

According to the researchers, the study is important because of the current focus on NHS social prescribing and community service referrals to the arts to improve wellbeing and health.

The researchers said: “Overall, our results highlight the importance of continuing to explore new social factors as core determinants of health.”

However, in an accompanying editorial, Nicola Gill, a GP training programme director in York, and Stephen Clift, from Canterbury Christ Church University, praised the research but said those who have the most to gain from participating in cultural activities – such as the lonely or depressed – were least likely to do so.

“Over 40 per cent of participants in the least wealthy group also reported that they never accessed cultural activities,” they wrote. “Work must now be done to ensure that the health benefits of these activities are accessible to those who would benefit most.”

The pair suggested focus be put on giving Christmas gifts related to the arts, writing: “Take a moment to consider the gifts you might give this Christmas: the painting set for a grandchild, a trip to the pantomime with your children, the quiet pleasures of a good book, or a night out dancing with your partner. They all have the power to change a life.”

Previous studies have found that engaging with the arts can improve a person’s physical and mental wellbeing, including depression, dementia, chronic pain and frailty.

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