Number 12 in our countdown of '70 Ways Art Improves Our Health' highlights how attending art can boost mental and physical health for older people…

Research published last year found that older people who attended cultural events, from exhibitions to the ballet, reported better mental and physical health than those who did not engage with the arts at all.

In the past, most research has focused on the benefits of creating art on its own. But Staying Engaged: Health Patterns of Older Americans Who Participate in the Arts looked at both creating art and attending art.

The study looked at 15 years of health data from almost 1,500 older adults (55+ years). They then compared their levels of physical and mental health to their arts participation.

The researchers found that people who both created and attended art:

reported better health outcomes (lower rates of hypertension and greater cognitive and physical functioning) than those who neither created nor attended art.

People who either created art or attended also 'experienced slower rates of decline in cognitive and physical functioning over the last decade, and less growth in hypertension, compared with other older adults.'

Interestingly, the study found that adults who reported only attending cultural activities had levels of wellbeing similar or close to those who also created art.

The researchers are unsure of the direct link between attending culture and better wellbeing. In fact, there were benefits for participants even for people who simply reported that they thought art was important. The frequency with which older adults make or attend art is also a factor: the more often older people did these activities, the healthier they appeared to be and remain.

While these potential benefits are certainly fantastic for older people’s wellbeing, a major factor in reality is their ability to access them.

For those with mobility or mental health problems, especially for those in care, the lack of easy access or perceived lack of access to arts can negate the benefits…

But that’s where Paintings in Hospitals comes in!

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