It doesn't seem like a stretch to say most people feel pretty good after a stimulating afternoon at the museum or rousing Broadway production. Now, research out of University College London suggests that exposing oneself to the arts—be it going to museums, art galleries, concerts, the opera, or the theater—may help older adults live longer, the New York Times reports. The study, published in the BMJ, followed more than 6,700 subjects ages 50 and older starting in 2004 and 2005, keeping track over the next 14 years of how often the subjects exposed themselves to the arts, and how many had died by the end of the research period (about 2,000 of them). After controlling for other factors, the researchers found that those subjects who engaged in the arts frequently—every few months or more—had a 31% lower risk of dying compared with those who never engaged.
Even subjects who went to an arts-themed event infrequently (just once or twice a year) exhibited a 14% lower risk than non-engagers. Possible theories on this correlation include arts lovers being more engaged with the world at large, less sedentary, more empathetic, and suffering from less loneliness—all factors that can help people live longer. Those who tout the importance of the arts in schools, where such programs are often threatened during austerity, are pleased to see the results of this study, which co-author Andrew Steptoe says appears to be the first comprehensive research on how the arts affect mortality. "Too often, the arts are seen as this frill, but they really do play an essential role in our lives," Heather Hitchens, CEO of the American Theatre Wing, tells the Times. "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." (Read more discoveries stories.)