Get involved in the arts and invest in your health
by Nancy Cooley,
Being involved with the arts is fun, but did you know that it can contribute to your health? The benefits come from active involvement like dancing, singing, and painting and more receptive involvement, such as going to a concert or the theatre, strolling through an art gallery, or going to a local arts festival. Researchers in the United States and Scandinavia found that the benefits include living longer, feeling more positive about your physical, mental, and social health, and even reduced risk of some diseases.
In the U.S., researchers studied seniors in three American cities. Their ages ranged from 65 to 103, with an average age of 80 years. The seniors who were involved once a week in professionally taught arts classes showed:
- better health, fewer doctor visits, and less medication use
- more positive responses on mental health measures
- more involvement in other activities
- more independence and less need for institutional care.
These seniors were compared to seniors in control groups being studied at the same time in the same cities. The seniors in the control groups were as socially connected and active as the other groups, but they were involved in things that were not arts-based. This group did not show an improvement in their health. In fact, their health declined.
Just showing up improves health outcomes
In Sweden, researchers had found that simple attendance at cultural events seemed to be related to living longer. They did some further research to find out if it mattered how often people did things like going to the cinema, theatre, concerts, museums or art exhibits. They found that those who changed their arts activities over time also changed their perceived health. Those who became more culturally active became more positive about their personal health.
Modern technologies such as brain scans reveal that even an activity as seemingly passive as reading stimulates the brain. When we read vivid descriptions of sensations, emotions, and actions in a novel, it stimulates the same sections of the brain. It is as if we are actually smelling, eating, feeling, or doing something active.
Two recent studies have revealed that “individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective.” These are all skills that help us to avoid isolation and loneliness — conditions that contribute to failing health.
So pick up that novel, go to the theatre, visit an art gallery, enjoy a concert. It can improve your health.
About the Author
Nancy Cooley, Arts Health Network Canada
Cooley & Associates, Inc.
Fitness for the mind
One in five Canadians will face the challenge of mental illness at some point in their lifetime. And with some mental illnesses, age can increase risk.
Yet older adults are less likely to receive treatment for their mental illness. Sometimes this is because people don’t understand what is ‘typical aging’ and what is not. Many people still believe that it is a normal part of aging when a person goes through significant changes in mood and behaviour. This simply isn’t true.
In fact, changes in mood and behaviour can be caused by illnesses such as depression, delirium, or dementia. They should be attended to by a health care professional.
What is depression?
Clinical depression is a mental illness. It is more than having a bad day or feeling ‘blue’ for a short time. A diagnosis of depression means that a person has had some, or all, of these symptoms for at least two weeks:
- Feeling sad
- No interest in or pleasure from things they used to enjoy
- Less energy and feeling tired
- Having aches and pains
- Feeling guilty or worthless
- Difficulties thinking and concentrating
- Problems sleeping
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Feeling agitated or sluggish
- Having thoughts of suicide
For most people, depression does not get better on its own. Talk to your healthcare provider.
Building your mental health
It’s important to know the warning signs, but it’s just as important to promote your own mental health. Here are ten tips for living and aging well:
- Eat healthy foods in healthy amounts.
- Be physically and mentally healthy.
- Get rest.
- Manage your stress.
- Don’t smoke.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation.
- Get involved with things that interest you.
- Spend time with people – family, friends, and members of your community.
- Follow the advice of your health care team.
- Ask for help when you need it.
Maintaining your mental health as a caregiver
If you are a family caregiver, caring for yourself is one of the most important things you can do. Use these tips to stay physically and mentally healthy. When your needs are taken care of, the person you care for will benefit too.
About the Author:
Dr. Kim Wilson is an Associate Professor in Adult Development & Aging at the University of Guelph.