When going through menopause, many women start looking for the proverbial fountain of youth. Some turn to plastic surgery while others focus on meditation. I’ve often recommended exercise and a healthy diet as a key part in remaining youthful. Now I’ve got another recommendation - active participation in the creative arts.
That’s because more and more, researchers are finding that the fine arts actually offer protective health benefits as we age. Don’t believe me? Here are some points that might change your mind:
- Older women who learn to jazz dance have improved balance, thus offering them a level of protection from devastating falls. A 2009 small study involved 13 health women who were on average 68 years of age. They took part in jazz dance classes and were evaluated based on balance, cognition and mood (depression). The researchers found that the women showed improved balance after participating in this instruction, although they did not show improved cognition or mood.
- Acting strategies may boost brain function in older adults. In one research effort, 122 eligible volunteers from retirement homes were assigned to one of three groups. The first focused on acting, the second group sang, and the third group was a waiting-list control group. After a four-week intensive course, the researchers found that the acting group showed significant improvement on seven of eight cognitive measures. This improvement was more than what was experienced by the singers or the control group. Additionally, the singing group and the acting group gave self-reports that showed improvements in personal growth as measured by a standard quality of life measure. The control group didn’t have the same improvement.
- Some evidence shows that taking part in musical training and playing an instrument regularly can help with understanding speech when there is background noise as well as protecting auditory working memory as we age. A lifestyle of making music promotes the biological processing of sound and enhances communication skills, cognitive function and physical health. Music also helped people who were recovering from a brain injury, such as a stroke. Researchers also have found that music enhances movement in people who have Parkinson’s disease.
- Participating in creative activities serves as a health boost. In a 2006 study, 160 ambulatory older adults were assigned to participate in a chorale group or their usual activity. Participants who took part in the weekly chorale lessons reported better overall health and two fewer doctor’s visits. They also took fewer over-the-counter medications and had fewer falls than the control group.
- Music and art use parts of the brain that are not affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Studies show that people who have Alzheimer’s disease retain their music skills as well as their music memory long after other communication and cognitive skills have waned. Additionally, researchers found that music may help improve memory and language for some people with dementia.
- Participating in the arts - whether it’s music, theater, dance or creative writing - offers benefits to older people’s health, no matter when you start doing them.
- Design and visual arts can play an important role in supporting an older person’s quality of life. For instance, landscaping and the design of a building have been found to be critical for success in residential facilities. Universal design also can help older people take part more fully in normal activities.
These points underscore why it’s a great idea to take up the arts. Whether you want to join the church choir, have plans to take your garden to the next step or are going to start acting or ballroom dance lessons, you’ll be doing something good for your health as well as something enjoyable that enhances your life.
Primary Resources for This Sharepost:
Alpert, P.T., et al. (2009). The effect of modified jazz dance on balance, cognition, and mood in older adults. Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.
National Center for Creative Aging. (2014). Creative aging fact sheet.
National Endowment for the Arts. (2013). The arts and aging: Building the science.
Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter at @dorianmartin, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.