The Arts and Healthy Aging: How Does Art Affect the Brain?

Post Date: November 2017  |  Category: General Wellness Senior Health

Senior woman painting.

Art can be fun, but it can also provide many health benefits for older adults.

Art and creativity can play an important role in brain development for children, but did you know painting, coloring, and other artistic pursuits offer numerous health benefits to older adults? In addition to providing an engaging pastime, art may also improve cognition, increase social interactions, and has even been shown to reduce anxiety and depression.

The Benefits of Art

How does art affect the brain and provide these important benefits? Researchers say that creative pursuits help to build connections in the brain to strengthen cognitive reserve, or brain resilience, and subsequently prevent memory loss. Creating artwork can also improve fine motor skills through small, purposeful movements, which may help to prevent pain and stiffness. Beyond the physical and mental benefits, art can have an important emotional impact as well. For those who have trouble expressing themselves, creating a visual representation of thoughts and feelings can be a simpler way to communicate. Communication with others reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation. The AARP says that doing the arts and crafts you did as a child can help you connect to positive childhood memories and emotions.

One study found that people between eighty-five and eighty-nine years of age with no current memory problems who engaged in arts activity were 73 percent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, a condition that results in memory loss and reduced mental function. Another study reported that people who created art or attended art events reported better health outcomes, including lowered blood pressure. Research sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts found that older adults who were involved in culturally enriching programs showed a decline in depression, were less likely to fall, and had few doctor visits.

Art as Meditation

Adult coloring books have experienced a recent surge in popularity, and for good reason. They're a fun solo activity and can also be enjoyed with grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. Concentrating on coloring, or any artistic endeavor, can clear your mind of negative thoughts and replace them with pleasant images, which may help to reduce depression.

Much like meditation, art can calm your mind by helping you focus on the moment, a popular strategy for reducing anxiety and other negative feelings. Getting lost in thought while you create can help your brain and body relax, which also leads to stress reduction and improved health.

You Don't have to Be an Artist to Make Art

Harvard Medical School reminds everyone that it's the process not the product that matters, so don't worry if your artwork doesn't look like it belongs in a museum. More good news: while the rest of your body is aging, your creative abilities do not deteriorate.

Though drawing and painting are popular pursuits, there are plenty of other creative endeavors to choose from, including coloring, playing an instrument, creative writing, pottery, singing, photography, and knitting.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Try creating something through a variety of mediums. Be creative in your creativity—that's part of what makes art fun.

By Joelle Klein

Sources:

Today's Geriatric Magazine, Aging: What's Art Got to Do With It?

New York Times, Using Art to Promote Healthy Aging

Time, The Health Perks of Arts & Crafts for Adults

AARP, Coloring Books for Adults Just Might Help You Flex Your Creative Muscle

AARP, Older Adults Get Health Boost from the Arts

Next Avenue, Whom do Arts Benefit the Most? Older Adults

American Seniors Communities, Art Therapy for Seniors

Harvard Medical School, The Healing Power of Art


These articles are not a substitute for medical advice, and are not intended to treat or cure any disease. Advances in medicine may cause this information to become outdated, invalid, or subject to debate. Professional opinions and interpretations of scientific literature may vary. Consult your healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, exercise, or medication regime.