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New report explores relationship between arts engagement and health

18th February 2015

A new report, published by Arts for Health at Manchester Metropolitan University on Thursday 12 February 2015, reveals that engaging with the arts and culture generally has a positive long-term effect on health and wellbeing.

The Long-Term Health Benefits of Participating in the Arts

Research undertaken by Dr Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt has uncovered evidence, stretching back a number of decades, which shows a significant association between engaging with the arts and longer lives better lived. Under the auspices of the Cultural Value Project – initiated by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the UK’s main academic funder in the field – Dr. Gordon-Nesbitt has compiled an evidence base comprised of fifteen longitudinal studies. These international studies collectively suggest that attending high-quality cultural events has a beneficial impact upon a range of chronic diseases over time. This includes cancer, heart disease, dementia and obesity, with an inevitable knock-on effect upon life expectancy.

Many possible reasons for this positive association are speculated upon by the researchers brought together in this report – from increased social capital to psycho-neuroimmunological responses – all of which are interrogated in detail. One of the most compelling potential explanations for any positive association observed between arts engagement and health comes from the field of epigenetics, specifically the idea that environmental enrichment (in this case, cultural activity) can cause certain harmful genes to be switched off, enabling health-protective effects to be communicated from one generation to the next.

In an era in which arts organisations are repeatedly urged to account for themselves in economic terms and we have largely lost sight of the individual and social value of culture, it is hoped that these combined findings will be heeded by policy-makers in the arts and health.

As several of the researchers included in the evidence base observe and Dr. Gordon-Nesbitt highlights in her report, there is every chance that any positive health effects attributed to arts engagement are the result of a hidden factor, most likely a socio-economic one. As such, this compelling report urgently incites further research into the inequalities that mediate our access to health and the arts.

Read more on the ArtsforHealth website