Death is a recurring theme in art from some of the oldest works to present day. Walking through most museums, you won’t have to stray far before seeing a symbol, like a skull or a clock, representing the inevitability of death and the fragility of life. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), though, shows that stopping by a museum and seeing an exhibition, even just once a year, might extend your life.
Over the course of 14 years, more than 6,700 people over the age of 50 from England participated in the survey executed by Daisy Fancourt and Andrew Steptoe, associate professor of psychobiology and epidemiology and professor of psychology and epidemiology, respectively at University College London. During the survey’s timeframe, participants reported the frequency at which they went to museums, exhibitions, art galleries, concerts, the theatre, or the opera. Their findings state that of the surveyed group, those who attended ‘receptive arts activities’ just once or twice a year were at a 14% lower risk of passing away. Frequent arts attendees (those who attended such events every few months or more often) further increased their longevity as the study found they had a 31% lower chance of dying.
The study took into consideration socioeconomics and how that might skew the results. Recognizing that socioeconomic level impacts ability to frequent exhibitions and other cultural events was one ways the survey differed from others. Given the study’s accommodation for varying socioeconomics, it found that despite where participants fell along the socioeconomic field, their longevity still increased when attending cultural activities. Still, the survey noted that there is a positive correlation between higher socioeconomic statuses and longevity that plays a role in life expectancy. Another key aspect of the study, contrasting to other similar studies, was that it found an insignificant difference between male and female participants. Thus, sex did not alter the results of those who did and did not attend cultural events.
The survey’s findings fall in line with other studies looking into similar associations from around the world. Similar Scandinavian reports, conducted using data from the last decades of the 21st century, showed correlations akin to the findings of Fancourt and Steptoe. Additionally, Canadian and British studies have shown that when placed in hospital environments, art has a positive impact on patients and their wellbeing. In 2018, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) kicked off a collaborative programme with the Médecins francophones du Canada that allowed doctors, who were a member of the organization, to prescribe visits to the MMFA to combat an array of medical issues patients might face. So, the survey recently published in the BMJ only adds to the correlation between art and a healthier live.
In the end, the report stated, that the results they found ‘suggest that cultural engagement is associated with longevity.’ Obviously, a museum visit will never solely tack on some years to your life, but what’s the harm in being safe rather than sorry?