ELSA research published in the BMJ has shown that older people who engage with the arts live longer than those who take part infrequently or not at all.
The authors looked at data from 6,710 ELSA participants who were followed up for 14 years.
The focus was on ‘receptive arts engagement’, which included going to the theatre, concerts, opera, museums, art galleries and exhibitions. Frequency of engagement with any of these activities was categorised as never, infrequent (less than once a year, or once or twice a year) or frequent (every few months, or monthly or more).
The researchers found that the more people engaged in receptive arts activities, the less likely they were to die over the 14 year follow up period.
This was shown by a 31% lower risk of dying at any point during the follow-up period amongst people who engaged with cultural activities on a frequent basis (every few months or more) compared with never engaging, and a 14% lower risk of dying amongst people who engaged with cultural activities on an infrequent basis (once or twice a year).
The association remained even after all identified confounders – factors that could affect the result such as heath, age, wealth – were accounted for, as co-author Professor Andrew Steptoe explains:
“One might think that people who go to museums, attend concerts and so on are healthier than those who don’t. Or are wealthier, more mobile, and less depressed, and that these factors explain why attendance is related to survival. But the interesting thing about this research is that even when we take these (and other) factors into account, we still see a strong association between cultural engagement and survival."
The results of this study add to the weight of evidence showing the benefit of the arts to health, as recently synthesised in a World Health Organisation report co-authored by the lead of this study, Dr Daisy Fancourt.
Dr Fancourt explains: “This study has significance given the current focus on schemes such as “social prescribing” and “community service referrals” that are being used to refer individuals (including older adults) to community arts activities in a number of countries.
In addition to other literature exploring the benefits of such engagement for specific mental and physical health conditions, our results suggest there might also be broader benefits including helping to promote longer lives.”
Fancourt, D. S., Steptoe, A. (2019). The Art of Life and Death: 14-Year Follow-up Analyses of the Association between Arts Engagement and Mortality in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. BMJ 2019;367:l6377