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Older Adults Get Health Boost From Art

Free museum day offers opportunity to start exploring

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Older adults who attend arts exhibits or events receive mental and physical benefits, according to a new study.
Andrew Harnik/AP

Just in time for Museum Day Live! on Sept. 23, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) recently published research showing that adults over the age of 55 who attended or participated in cultural and artistic events reported better mental and physical health than those who did not.

"Staying Engaged: Health Patterns of Older Americans Who Participate in the Arts” studied 15 years of health data from 1,498 older adults, looking at both art creation and attendance. Participants who created or attended art events reported better health outcomes that year, including lower rates of hypertension and improved physical functioning. Among those who both created and attended art events, cognitive functioning scores were seven-fold higher than for adults who did neither type of arts activity.

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The report is based on results from the Health and Retirement Study, conducted by the University of Michigan with primary support from the National Institute on Aging within the National Institutes of Health.

Previous studies also found a better health profile for older adults who create art or take lessons, NEA Research and Analysis Director Sunil Iyengar said in a statement. “This report, by contrast, looks at older adults who either create art or attend arts events, do both or do neither, and health differences across these groups. The findings, while purely descriptive, will help future researchers to probe the arts-health relationship further.”

This study is good news for people planning to participate in Museum Day Live!, an annual celebration hosted by Smithsonian magazine. Hundreds of participating museums and cultural institutions across the country provide free entry to anyone presenting a Museum Day Live! ticket on Sept. 23.

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