Bonus of museum visit? You might live longer.
of the Opera.”
But Steptoe said researchers theorized that people who expose themselves to the arts are likely to be more engaged in the world.
“We know that a sense of purpose in life is important,” he said. “Being involved and excited by the arts keeps and maintains your purpose in life.”
The study also noted that engaging in the arts can reduce loneliness, promote empathy and emotional intelligence, and keep people from becoming sedentary — all factors that contribute to a longer life.
Many studies have examined the positive effects of the arts on older people.
Americans older than 55 who did not create art or go to concerts, museums or plays reported higher rates of hypertension and cognitive decline than those who did, according to a study of nearly 1,500 participants released by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2017.
The London study is believed to be the first comprehensive examination of the effects of art on mortality, Steptoe said.
From 2004 to 2005, researchers collected data from 6,710 people who responded to questionnaires about how often they went to concerts, museums, galleries, the theater or the opera.
In addition to providing personal information such as age, gender, ethnicity, marital status, educational background, profession and income, participants answered questions about their physical and mental health, how often they smoked or drank, and how much exercise they got.
Over the next 14 years, about 2,000 participants died — a vast majority of them from illnesses related to cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems and other natural causes, according to the study.
“This study raises a number of future research questions,” the authors wrote. For example, future studies could consider how engagement in the arts from a young age might affect a person’s life span.
The study also did not examine whether there was any overlap with participants who actively participated in art, as by playing music, dancing or painting.
Still, the results of the study excited art and theater advocates who said they hoped the research would motivate a push to restore arts and music programs that have been cut from schools around the country over the years.
“So much of that has been destroyed,” said Heather A. Hitchens, chief executive of the American Theater Wing, which funds a wide range of productions and programs.
“Too often, the arts are seen as this frill, but they really do play an essential role in our lives,” Hitchens said. “Now we have a study telling us it helps us live longer. It’s just yet the latest example of how powerful the arts are.”
Advocates said the study was also a reminder of how critical it is for the arts to be more accessible to Americans of all incomes.
Gabriella Souza, a spokeswoman for the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, said the study’s results were not surprising.
“In terms of finding peace and tranquility in galleries, that is one of the reasons people come to our museums,” she said.
The museum, which offers free admission and gets about 160,000 visitors a year, recently surveyed visitors about why they come. Twenty percent said for “peace and rejuvenation,” Souza said.
“It’s a real testament to how important exposure really is,” she said. “You need to be able to access art to be able to appreciate it.”
Visitors make their way through the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. A study finds that museum visitors tend to live longer.