Live theatre could save your life. According to new research from the University College London, even attending just one artistic event a month—whether theatre or a gallery or museum—could cut risk of premature death by more than 30 percent.
The study tracked more than 6,000 adults—at least 50 years of age—in England. These adults were already involved with a broader aging study. Researchers recorded how often these individuals engaged in artistic activities/events including concerts and opera (but not cinema: the events must be live and active) between 2004 and 2005, as well as a 12-year follow-up.
Lead study author Dr. Daisy Fancourt explains, “While other health behaviors like smoking, alcohol, and exercise are undoubtedly bigger predictors of mortality, these leisure and pleasure activities that people don’t think as a health related activity do support good health and longevity.”
The study also looked at wider range of personal factors like health, social, and economic data.
The study concluded, “Part of the association is attributable to differences in socioeconomic status among those who do and do note engage in the arts, which aligns with research that suggest engagement in cultural activities is socially patterned.”
However, more than half of the association they did find is not dependent on any of the three factors the researchers identified. Thus, Fancourt says, they have not been able to explain the connection.
Perhaps, Fancourt suggests, arts engagement acts as a kind of buffer against the various types of stress that life can throw at you. Furthermore, building creativity allows people to adapt to changing circumstances. But engaging with the arts also help people develop their social capital by increasing access to emotional support and important sensitive information that help people to mature and age successfully.
More importantly, though, UCL Research Department of Behavioral Science and Health associate professor believes that arts engagement might also give participants a greater sense of purpose. When you combine this study with the significantly larger body of evidence it becomes more clear how arts benefits health in a variety of ways.