Engaging with the arts linked to longer life

Those who engage in the arts, by attending galleries, museums, and the theater, may be more likely to live longer, according to new research.

New UK research has found that regularly visiting museums, art galleries, the theater or concerts could help you live longer.

Carried out by researchers at University College London, the new study looked at 6,710 adults age 50 and over who self-reported how frequently they took part in arts activities, including going to the theater, concerts, opera, museums, art galleries and exhibitions.

The participants were then followed up for an average of 12 years.

The findings, published Thursday in The BMJ, showed that after taking into account various influencing factors, participants who engaged in arts activities just once or twice a year had a 14 percent lower risk of dying at any point during the follow-up period than those who never took part in the arts.

Moreover, the more often people engage with the arts, the lower their risk of death, with those who attended artistic events every few months or more benefiting from a 31 percent lower risk of dying. 

The researchers say that several theories have suggested that the arts could boost longevity by improving mental health, reducing loneliness, developing cognitive reserve, reducing sedentary behaviors and reducing risk-taking behaviors. Previous studies have also found that engaging with the arts can improve physical and mental well-being, including depression, dementia, chronic pain and frailty.

As an observational study, the researchers note that they cannot establish cause and effect, however, they add that "overall, our results highlight the importance of continuing to explore new social factors as core determinants of health." 

Researchers commenting in a linked editorial say that everyone should have the chance to participate in cultural activities, and that those who have the most to gain from engaging in the arts, such as the poorest and those with depression or loneliness, are least likely to do so. They add that work needs to be done "to ensure that the health benefits of the arts are accessible to those who would benefit most."