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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.