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The Art and Longevity Connection: How Art May Lead to Longer Lives

By nature, human beings are creative, and we enjoy immersing ourselves in an array of artistic endeavors. After all, if we didn’t, we wouldn’t have museums, art galleries or graffiti on subway cars. But scientists have delved into art’s value from an evolutionary perspective, and research suggests that art and artistic activities may actually be a key to a longer life expectancy.

In addition to being linked to a longer life expectancy, art may also enhance the quality of life through anti-aging effects. While the precise mechanisms by which this outcome occurs has yet to be clearly demonstrated, the evidence is impressive. And many researchers now speculate several ways that art may boost wellness overall. If that detail turns out to be true, then including art into our routine lives may not only be merely enjoyable but also be a necessary health activity.

READ MORE: Anti-Aging Startups Leading The Longevity Research Revolution

a photo quote of Daisy Fancourt concerning the connection of the health benefits of art to a longer life expectancy
Notably, researchers speculate a number of ways that art may boost our overall wellness.

Art’s Effect on Life Expectancy

In a recent research study from University College London, the clear health benefits of art have been demonstrated. In a longitudinal survey involving 6,000 adults over a period of 14 years, researchers measured the presence and frequency of art engagement. They then matched this data against the participants’ life longevity. Interestingly, the more often the participants chose to engage in art events, the longer life expectancy they enjoyed. In fact, frequent engagement of artistic activities on a regular basis reduced mortality rates by 31 percent.

The research study also considered other potential variables that might interfere with the study’s conclusions. As a result, the researchers controlled for things like lifestyle behaviors, demographics, socioeconomic status and health conditions. Over the course of the 14 years, nearly 30 percent of the participants died. Of these, almost half had no engagement in the arts, such as theatre, art museums, concerts and others. In contrast, those engaging or attending these events 1-2 times a year represented 27 percent of this group. And those attending at least every other month represented only 19 percent of the group.

a photo quote of Daisy Fancourt concerning the connection of a longer life expectancy to the health benefits of art
The argument that art may promote a longer life is proving to be well-founded.

Potential Mechanisms Behind the Health Benefits of Art

The health benefits of art that go beyond a longer life expectancy have been recognized previously in other research studies. Specifically, art therapy has been used in depression and various anxiety disorders. Likewise, it has been utilized with children in dealing with emotional and behavioral problems with some success. And most recently, individuals with mild traumatic brain injury have shown some improvements in emotional regulation with art therapy. Each of these areas suggests the health benefits of art can be broad in nature.

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These findings and the recent research comparing art engagement to a longer life expectancy have encouraged thoughts about these connections. Theories about the possible mechanisms that link the health benefits of art to these behaviors are now numerous. For one, art is believed to help reduce stress, which can lead to better health in many aspects. Also, creative interpretations may help us better plan and prepare for our future. And artistic activities encourage emotional expression, which veritably promotes better emotional and mental well-being. Any of these (or all of them) may contribute to art’s impact on a longer life expectancy.

a photo quote of Girija Kaimal concerning the connection of the health benefits of art to a longer life expectancy
Another noteworthy detail in this discussion is that art can encourage imagination.

Linking Art with Human Evolution

In terms of a longer life expectancy, the health benefits of art may extend beyond stress reduction and emotion regulation. One of the evolutionary theories is that art therapy may help us in terms of survival. Notably, our brains are tasked with predicting and avoiding danger as a means to preserve life. With this mind, experiencing various art activities could enhance our brain’s skills in this area. The interpretive nature of these activities could enable us to better anticipate what may happen next. And as a result, it may improve our chances of overall survival and the opportunity to age well.

READ MORE: Reimagining Aging and Envisioning New Ways of Living

These considerations are more than simple theories, however. It has also been shown that participating in art events increases blood circulation to the brain’s reward center. In essence, art activities are reinforced because they provoke the release of reward neurochemicals like dopamine. Therefore, there appears to be an evolutionary incentive to engage in artistic endeavors. In addition to the other health benefits of art, this conclusion suggests a more lasting incentive for the behavior. The ability of art to help man facilitate a longer life expectancy may account for these phenomena.

a cartoon of a man with three paintings while he enjoys a longer life expectancy as one of the health benefits of art
Aside from enhancing the quality of life, art may promote a longer life expectancy. What does this fact mean for the connection between art and good health?

The Health Benefits of Art Are Universal

One of the essential details that have emerged from studies is that everyone can benefit from art activities. In research that measured cortisol levels, which is linked to one’s stress level, art activities reduced cortisol across the board. In other words, one doesn’t have to be a talented artist to enjoy the health benefits of art. It appears that the process of simply engaging art is enough to promote a longer life expectancy. If that is indeed true, then health providers may be encouraging all of us to participate in art events more often. That is one preventative care activity that would likely be met with little resistance.

Students, Mental Health Apps and the Mental Health-Privacy Tradeoff

Across college campuses all over the nation, students struggle with an array of mental health issues. By some accounts, 60 percent have significant anxiety problems. Likewise, roughly 40 percent of college students have significant depression. But despite these statistics, only about 15 percent of students seek help. With limited mental health services and counselors, many students have difficulty finding the help they need. In addition, the social stigma that comes with having mental health issues can also serve as a deterrent. But this is rapidly changing with the rise of mental health apps on campuses today.

Students and therapists alike welcome the introduction of mental health apps. Given the resource constraints present, mental health apps offer a means to better reach, educate, and manage these students. In fact, many institutions are encouraging the use of these mental health apps as routine services from oncoming students. But increasingly, there are some serious concerns in regard to health information privacy. While the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPAA) legislation might be assumed to protect health information privacy on these apps, this is not necessarily the case. And because of these potential health information privacy violations, many are calling for new systems and structures to replace them.

mental health apps, lori andrews quoted
Patients seeking help through mental health apps should understand the risks.

The Upside to Mental Health Apps for Students

Research has supported that mental health apps are beneficial for college students. While not as advantageous as in-person therapist services, these health apps offer benefits nonetheless. Specifically, these mental health apps offer self-assessments, reality checks, and educational information. They also provide videos, interactive features, and a number of courses and skills-training sessions. There are even activity and mood monitoring services in some mental health apps. Given the constraints on accessing mental health services otherwise, these apps fill a serious void currently.

More than a dozen of these mental health apps now exist for students on college campuses today. TAO Connect is a popular one that professionals at the University of Florida Counseling and Wellness Center developed. It is now offered at more than 150 college campuses. Another is YOU at College, which was developed in 2014 by Grit Digital Health. It now boasts over 40,000 accounts among 55 college campuses. Clearly, the popularity of these mental health apps is increasing, which is why health information privacy concerns are also rising.

health information privacy
There is a need to be cautious about where people ask for help.

Health Information Privacy Concerns

Because mental health apps collect and provide medical information, one might initially expect these to fall under HIPAA regulations. But HIPAA actually only pertains to health information privacy related to provider use. In other words, HIPAA covers health information privacy when used by a medical provider, institution or insurer. However, self-reported data and those communicated by consumers to other parties do not apply to HIPAA regulations. Understanding this, mental health apps often do not provide any significant health information privacy protections for students.

When it comes to mental health apps, the majority to not provide guarantees that they will comply with HIPAA standards. In addition, many have relinquished some rights to the developers of mental health apps. This means that demographic information, statistical data, and even personal contacts may be at-risk. A recent study showed that 95 percent of individuals in a major health survey could be identified using machine learning. And without health information privacy protections in place, such data could be sold to an array of third parties. Advertising agencies, marketing firms, and even insurance companies are among those interested in such data. And without HIPAA offering adequate health information privacy oversight, students are at high-risk when using these mental health apps.

mental health apps, john torous quoted
Safety first. People should protect their confidential information.

Time for Change in Health Information Privacy Laws

Without a doubt, technologies and innovations have surpassed existing HIPAA laws and regulations. Today, we have fitness trackers, social media data, pregnancy apps, and even more that collect and store all types of health data. Facebook recently came out with its own Preventative Health tool, which also collects consumer health data. And the information currently recorded by consumers in personal health records is at-risk if not used by a medical provider. Notably, there is a limit in health information privacy protections in relation to these activities. And mental health apps now represent another such area where there is a need for health information privacy protections. Clearly, there is a need for change in health information privacy laws given these rapidly evolving developments.

mental health apps for students cartoon
How risky are mental health apps?

While the U.S. has lagged behind in this regard, Europe and some states are taking action. Europe has adopted stricter health information privacy protections under its General Data Protection Regulation. Similarly, the California Consumer Privacy Act has also invoked stronger health information privacy rules. In essence, both of these shift protections onto the type of data being considered rather than the user. When it comes to mental health apps, these types of regulations make logical sense. While the potential benefits of mental health apps are encouraging, health information privacy risks remain substantial. Without question, it’s time to adequately address these risks be so that these vulnerable individuals can have the protections they deserve.

Longer Life Expectancy Is One Of The Many Health Benefits of Art Cartoon

a cartoon of a man with three paintings while he enjoys a longer life expectancy as one of the health benefits of art
Aside from enhancing the quality of life, art may promote a longer life expectancy. What does this fact mean for the connection between art and good health?