Engagement with Art Increases Life Span, New Study from UCL Suggests

It has been said that regular arts engagement cultivates our inner virtues and temperament. A new research from UK suggests that it could also increase our life expectancy: the more an individual engages with the arts, the longer he or she tends to live.

UCL's Research Department of Behavioural Science and Health teamed up with UK's National Health Service (NHS) and studied 6,710 adults in England, aged 50 or older, for a span of 12 years starting in 2004 to 2005.

Results have shown that participants who engaged with art activities on a regular basis (every few months or more) had a 31% lower mortality risk when compared to those who didn't; in fact participants who engaged with art activities just once or twice a year had a 14% lower mortality risk as well.

"Art activities" here not only refers to visiting museums or exhibitions, but also includes others like going to the theatre and concerts, and even singing in a choir - not watching movies though as that is where the researchers have drawn the line.

Dr Daisy Fancourt, lead author of the study, stated that engagement with art "supports the buffering of stress, and builds creativity, which improves people’s ability to adapt positively to changing life circumstances".

Researches in the last ten years or so in Denmark and UK also revealed that placing artwork in hospitals have indeed increased patients' satisfaction and their health benefits. Last year the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts launched a pilot scheme where patients could visit the museum for free if their doctors said so.

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts grants free admission to patients as part of their medical treatment

The research led by UCL also attempts to explore the relationship between different frequencies of arts engagement and longevity from a socioeconomic standpoint. "Part of the association is attributable to differences in socioeconomic status among those who do and do not engage in the arts, which aligns with research that suggests engagement in cultural activities is socially patterned," the study said.

This demographic (people with higher socioeconomic status) is more inclined to visit museums, exhibitions and art galleries, since they have presumably more financial resources and leisure time. "This association might be partly explained by differences in cognition, mental health, and physical activity among those who do and do not engage in the arts, but remains even when the model is adjusted for these factors." the authors added.

Simply put, the research suggests that there is indeed a statistical correlation between regular arts engagement and longevity, even though the research team stopped short of establishing a causal link between them. In any case regular arts engagement can only be positive for all of us, extending lifespan or not. Check out our list of recommended exhibitions below in case you are wondering where to go during the Christmas period! 

Hong Kong Museum of Art has reopened after revamp

  • Hong Kong Museum of Art, From Dung Basket to Dining Cart: 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Wu Guanzhong (Phase I)
  • M+ Pavilion, Sigg Prize 2019 exhibition
  • Yim Tin Tsai Arts Festival