The Finer Things: Engaging With The Arts Lowers Risk Of Death, Study Finds


  • New study shows that older adults who regularly enjoy fine arts activities lower their risk of death by 31 percent.
  • Researchers say these individuals also displayed superior cognition skills and mental health.

LONDON — When was your last visit to the local art gallery? If you haven’t indulged in some culture in a while, you should probably make your way to a museum or symphony sometime soon, according to a new study conducted at University College London. The research team have found that older adults can prolong their lifespans and lower risk of death by regularly enjoying the finer things in life — art galleries, museums, concerts, operas, stage theatre productions, etc.

Previous research had already found that enjoying the arts can improve one’s physical and mental health, more specifically reducing the odds of developing depression, frailty, chronic pain, and dementia. However, none of those studies had investigated if becoming more cultured actually extended lifespan.

With this in mind, the study’s authors set out to investigate the relationship between fine art engagement and mortality. For their analysis, data on over 6,000 English adults over the age of 50 who had taken part in the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA) was used. In 2004-2005, participants had their overall interest and engagement frequency with the arts measured as part of the ELSA. Then, each adult was tracked for an average follow up period of 12 years, including any and all deaths.

After accounting for other influencing factors, such as social activity, overall health, and economic status, researchers found that people who engaged in the arts just once or twice annually had a 14% lower risk of dying during the 12 year tracking period than adults who reported never engaging in the arts.

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Furthermore, older adults who enjoyed the fine arts on a regular basis (at least every few months) had a 31% lower death risk.

The study’s authors say their findings can largely be explained by the fact that older adults who reported engaging in the arts frequently also displayed superior cognition skills and mental health, as well as more regular physical fitness. However, even after removing these factors from their analysis, researchers say those who take in the arts still appeared to be at a lower risk of dying.

To be clear, this study was only observational, and as such, can not establish definitive causation. The research team also concede that only assessing participants’ cultural engagement at one point in time may have hindered the study’s overall findings. Still, this research included a very large population sample backed up by national mortality data, and was thorough in accounting for other potential influencing factors, making it hard to simply write off its results as a mere coincidence or anecdotal.

“Overall, our results highlight the importance of continuing to explore new social factors as core determinants of health,” the study concludes.

Ironically, the study’s authors made it a point to note that the very people who have the most to gain from enjoying the arts; the poor, lonely, and depressed, are also the demographics least likely to do so. With this in mind, they recommend more work be done “to ensure that the health benefits of the arts are accessible to those who would benefit most.”

The study is published in The BMJ.

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