Published in
Dec 20, 2023

Many people associate doing something creative with relaxation and a sense of calm, and it turns out that science agrees.

Participating in art-making as you age is good for your mental well-being, according to new research in the journal Frontiers Public Health.

This study investigated the association between art and mental health among 2,843 adults born between 1946 and 1964. The data showed that the adults who had performed any recreational art activities during the year-long study saw significantly better mental health and physical health afterward than those who didn’t do any art.

“After adjustment for 12 demographic and lifestyle factors, it was found that older adults who engaged in any recreational arts in the last 12 months had significantly better mental well-being and physical health than those who did not engage in the arts at all (i.e., 0 hours per year),” Christina Davies, study author and Director of the Centre for Arts, Mental Health and Wellbeing at the University of Western Australia School of Allied Health, told Newsweek.

The type of art experienced by the participants varied from creating art to watching or experiencing the art of others.

“Study participants took part in the arts in a variety of ways. This includes attending arts events (e.g., concerts, theatre, movies, art exhibitions), participating/making art (e.g., painting, drawing, craft, creative writing, photography, singing, dancing), and learning about the arts (e.g., workshops, courses). Some study participants also volunteered or were a member of an arts organization,” Davies said

The type of art that each person finds most beneficial to their health will vary between individuals, according to Davies.

“We know from the literature that individual differences are important. This means that people should take part in the art form that makes them feel good. For one person, this may be listening to music; for another person, it could be singing or dancing or painting or photography,” she said.

The study found that the participants didn’t necessarily have to be good at the art and experienced better mental well-being regardless of skill level.

“You don’t have to be good at art for the arts to be good for you. It’s about having a go and taking part in the arts activities and events that make you feel good,” Davies said. “According to the literature, arts engagement outcomes include happiness, joy, enjoyment, relaxation, connection to others and the creation of good memories.”

“Our study suggests that activities, events and programs that encourage engagement in recreational arts may be a useful approach for healthy aging for older adults living in the community and in aged care,” Davies said.

The authors of the paper hope to further look into the optimal older person “art dose,” which is the amount of time that older adults require exposure to art for the mental and physical well-being outcomes to be positively affected. For the general population, the art dose is thought to be around two hours per week.