Want to live longer? Art museums may be the key, study suggests

Things to know about Atlanta's High Museum of Art

No one has been able to discover the fountain of youth, but an English study indicates that a trip to your local art museum could help extend your life.

The findings were published last month in the BMJ journal. Researchers from University College London included participants from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, a cohort of more than 6,000 adult residents ages 50 or older.

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The study reviewed the association between varying levels of engagement in the arts as well as mortality rates in participants in the cohort. Researchers followed up with participants over a 14-year period.

“While previous studies have shown the association between arts engagement and the prevention and treatment of mental and physical health conditions, including depression, dementia, chronic pain, and frailty, whether arts engagement actually confers survival benefits remains unclear,” the study read. “Some research has proposed that the universality of art and the strong emotional responses it induces are indications of its association with evolutionary adaptations, while other research has questioned whether art is an evolutionary parasite, with no particular evolutionary benefits to our species.”

Researchers found that adults 50 or older who engaged with arts frequently, or every few months or more — whether by going to the theater, museums, attending concerts, the opera or visiting art galleries and exhibitions — had a 31% lower risk of dying in the follow-up period.

And if participants engaged with cultural activities infrequently, or once or twice a year, they had a 14% lower risk of dying during the 14-year follow-up period compared to peers who did not engage in the arts.

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"These findings support previous statistical analyses and anthropological work suggesting there may be benefits of the arts to individuals as they age," said the study's co-author Daisy Fancourt to Reuters.

“It remains possible the association presented here could be the result of unidentified confounding factors, but it is promising that the association is maintained even when controlling for a wide range of socioeconomic, demographic, health, social and behavioral factors,” added Fancourt, an associate professor of psychobiology and epidemiology at University College London.

During the follow-up period, 29.8% of participants died. Men were more likely than women to die as were people who were older, unmarried or not living with a partner and people who were not working with no educational qualifications. Of the deceased participants, 47.5% had never engaged in the arts. Meanwhile, death occurred in 26.6% people who did engage in arts infrequently and 18.6% of those who engaged with it frequently.

Francourt told CNN participating in the arts can build creativity and block stress.

"We also thought that a greater sense of purpose could play a role," she said. "If this (study) is added to the larger body of evidence, we are getting an increasingly rich picture on how arts can benefit health and it's not about one single outcome. It can have wide ranging benefits and support healthier lives lived longer."