London: Regular visit to museums, art galleries, theatres or concerts is linked to a longer life, researchers have found.
And the more often people engage with the arts, the lower their risk of death, according to the study published in the journal The BMJ.
“Overall, our results highlight the importance of continuing to explore new social factors as core determinants of health,” said study researchers from University College, London.
Previous studies have found that engaging with the arts can improve a person’s physical and mental wellbeing, including depression, dementia, chronic pain, and frailty.
But whether arts engagement can improve survival remains unclear, so researchers set out to explore the association between different frequencies of arts engagement and mortality.
Their findings are based on data from more than 6,000 adults in England aged 50 years and over who were taking part in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).
Frequency of arts activities, including, going to the theatre, concerts, opera, museums, art galleries, and exhibitions, was measured at the start of the study in 2004-2005.
Participants were then followed up for an average of 12 years, during which time deaths were recorded using NHS mortality data.
After taking account of a range of economic, health and social factors, the researchers found that people who engaged in arts activities once or twice a year had a 14 per cent lower risk of dying at any time during the follow-up period than those who never engaged (3.5 deaths per 1,000 person years vs 6 deaths per 1,000 person years).
People who engaged in arts activities more frequently (every few months or more) had a 31 per ceny lower risk of dying (2.4 deaths per 1000 person years).
This protective association was largely explained by differences in cognition, mental health, and physical activity levels among those who did and did not engage in the arts.
But results were maintained independent of these and other factors such as mobility problems, deprivation, wealth, and retirement.
The researches point out that the very people who have the most to gain from participating in the arts, such as the poorest and those with depression or loneliness, are least likely to do so.
“These results are important given the current focus on social prescribing schemes – a key plinth of UK government health policy – that refer people to community arts activities to improve their health and wellbeing,” said researchers.
“Everyone should have the chance to participate in cultural activities, they added.