Colorful artist brushes and paint.

Engaging in the arts boosts seniors’ physical and emotional health

Active participation in the arts can have a positive impact on the health and well-being of older adults in many ways.

Better physical health, less pain

Seniors who participated in professionally-led arts programs at four community centres in Vancouver and North Vancouver over three years showed improved physical health, stronger social connections, reduced chronic pain, increased ability to cope with stress and greater motivation to maintain a healthy lifestyle, according to a University of British Columbia School of Nursing study in the Journal on Active Aging.

The Arts, Health and Seniors: Healthy Aging Through the Arts project (AHS), launched by Vancouver Coastal Health in partnership with the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, community groups and artists, demonstrates the enriching physical and mental health benefits of arts activities for older adults.

Seniors up to age 90 collaborated on a wide range of artistic, creative activities: writing, digital photography, puppet theatre, storytelling, dance, painting, drawing, mixed media arts and choral singing. Beyond the health benefits, participants reported gaining more confidence to learn and accomplish new things, and enjoyment from cultivating and expressing their creative skills and artistic abilities.

Better morale, fewer falls

The AHS project was inspired in part by the ground-breaking Creativity and Aging Study, led by geriatric psychiatrist Gene D. Cohen of George Washington University.  His 2006 study in The Gerontologist reported that older adults who participated in arts programs including painting, writing, poetry, jewelry making and music had better physical health, fewer doctor visits, less medication use, fewer falls, better morale and less loneliness than those who didn’t.

Engaging in arts programs has a positive health impact in improving social networks, increasing self-confidence and reducing feelings of fear, anxiety and social isolation, according to the Arts Health Network (AHN). Creative arts therapies also have been shown to reduce anxiety and tension in cardiac and surgery patients, and to reduce pain and discomfort in people suffering from a wide range of illnesses, reports AHN.

Just 45 minutes of creative activity significantly lowered cortisol levels and stress, regardless of the person’s artistic ability, according to a Drexel University study. Older adults who get involved in music, dance, painting and storytelling programs also experience less depression, reports a National Endowment for the Arts study.

Chartwell Retirement Residences offers enriching arts and cultural activities such as dance, music, arts and crafts, storytelling, book clubs and movies that engage residents and help contribute to good physical, emotional and cognitive health.