TAITMAIL Here's to a long life and an arty one

Happy new year.

OK, we need creativity in our schools. Keep on saying it and maybe, just maybe, it’ll be made to happen just to shut us up. But hang on, what’s this? Arts involvement later in life helps you live longer?

Well, yes, that seems to be what the BMJ is saying in a paper written by a couple of UCL psychology professors, giving an update on the 14-year-old “English Longitudinal Study of Ageing” (ELSA) of “6,710 community dwelling adults aged 50 years and over”. https://www.elsa-project.ac.uk/post/404 

The paper is by Andrew Steptoe and Daisy Fancourt, and it suggests that if you engage in “receptive arts activities” – going to museums, theatres, concerts – once a year you’ve got a 14% lower risk of dying within the next 14 years. And if you do something arty more often, a couple of times a month say, there’s a 31% better chance of you not dying in the near distant future than if you don’t.

"The other way of looking at this is, if the arts are actually helping to reduce the risk of things like mental or physical illness or they're helping with health promoting behaviours or with the management of health conditions, then this might add up and actually start to have an association with mortality" explains Dr Fancourt helpfully, but slightly edgily. She is photographed here at the Sage Gateshead with lot of artistic engagement going on behind her.

But once you get beyond the on the one hand/on the other hand safety clauses, the Steptoe and Fancourt offer eight ways in which arts engagement might be connected to longevity. 

Artistic engagement can:

  • Relieve chronic stress and depression though the kind of face-to-face interactions that go with artistic activity
  • Enhance social capital which builds your individual and collective resources
  • Reduce perceived isolation and loneliness
  • Promote emotional intelligence, boost social perception, increase empathy – all linked to a better chance of survival
  • Increase physical activity – not necessarily signing up for Strictly, walking round a museum is pretty stolid physical activity – and reduces sedentary behaviour, good for physical and psychological well being
  • Possibly increase a stronger sense of purpose in life, which goes with better immune functions and healthier lifestyle choices
  • Fosters creativity and imagination also linked to higher odds of survival
  • Like other leisure activities such as gardening, arts related activities could have “a protective association with premature mortality 

There are lots of ifs and maybes, of course, but when it comes down to it, it works.  “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” Professor Steptoe says. “But the interesting thing about this research is that even when we take these (and other) factors into account, we still see a strong association between cultural engagement and survival.”
It has all been “synthesised”, as they say in these circles, into a World Health Organisation  report by Dr Fancourt (http://www.euro.who.int/en/publications/abstracts/what-is-the-evidence-on-the-role-of-the-arts-in-improving-health-and-well-being-a-scoping-review-2019) putting the notion in an even wider scope. And here she goes: “The beneficial impact of the arts could be furthered through acknowledging and acting on the growing evidence base; promoting arts engagement at the individual, local and national levels; and supporting cross-sectoral collaboration”.
Funny, I was going to say that…



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