Visiting theatres and museums could help you live longer

Older people who engage with the arts live longer than those who take part infrequently or not at all.

Arts activities are classified as “multimodal” health interventions because they combine multiple psychological, physical, social, and behavioral factors with an intrinsic aesthetic motivation to engage. Previous studies have shown the association between arts engagement and the prevention and treatment of mental and physical health conditions, including depression, dementia, chronic pain, and frailty, 2-4 whether arts engagement confers survival benefits remains unclear.

A new study by the University College London explore associations between different frequencies of arts engagement and mortality over a 14 year follow-up period. The study measured engagement in the ‘receptive arts’ such as going to the theatre, concerts, opera, museums, art galleries, and exhibitions and linked this to mortality.

The study involved 6,710 adults aged 50 and over from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) for the 14 years.

Lead author, Dr. Daisy Fancourt (UCL Epidemiology & Health Care), said“In this study, we found that arts engagement could have a protective associative with longevity in older adults, which could partly be explained by differences in cognition, mental health, and physical activity.”

The findings show that adults who engaged in the arts frequently had a 31% lower risk of dying (2.4 deaths per 1000 person-years) at any point during the follow-up period compared with those who had not. The risk was 14% lower (3.5 deaths per 1000 person-years vs. six deaths per 1000 person-years) among people who engaged with the arts on an infrequent basis compared to those who never engaged.

Co-author, Professor Andrew Steptoe (UCL Epidemiology & Health Care), explained, “One might think that people who go to museums, attend concerts and so on are healthier than those who don’t. Or are wealthier, more mobile, and less depressed, and that these factors explain why attendance is related to survival. But the interesting thing about this research is that even when we take these and many other factors into account, we still see a strong association between cultural engagement and survival.”

The study highlights the benefit of the arts to health to children as well as adults.

Dr. Fancourt added: “Our study has significance given the current focus on schemes such as “social prescribing” and “community service referrals” that are being used to refer people to community arts activities in several countries. In addition to other literature exploring the benefits of such engagement for specific mental and physical health conditions, our results suggest there might also be broader benefits, including helping to promote longer lives.”

The study was published in the BMJ.

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