Theatre and museum trips linked to living longer

19 Dec 2019 11:16 AM

Older people who engage with the arts live longer than those who rarely or never take part, according to UCL research based on the ESRC-funded English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

The UCL study, published in the BMJ, analysed data from 6,710 adults aged 50 and over from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) who were followed up for 14 years.

The researchers measured activities such as going to the theatre, concerts, opera, museums, art galleries and exhibitions, and linked this to NHS mortality data. The level of engagement was split into three categories - never, infrequent (less than once a year, or once or twice a year) or frequent (every few months, or monthly or more).

Dr Daisy Fancourt (UCL Epidemiology & Health Care) yesterday said:

“We have seen increasing evidence to show the health benefit of the arts, and while ‘leisure’ has been broadly linked to a lower risk of premature death, few studies have focused specifically on arts engagement in the UK.

“In this study, we found that arts engagement could have a protective associative with longevity in older adults which could partly be explained by differences in cognitions, mental health, and physical activity.”

The findings show adults who had engaged in the arts on a frequent basis had a 31% lower risk of dying (2.4 deaths per 1000 person years) at any point during the follow-up period amongst people compared with adults who hadn’t .The risk was 14% lower (3.5 deaths per 1000 person years vs 6 deaths per 1000 person years) among people who engaged with the arts on an infrequent basis compared to those who never engaged. The association between a longer life and the arts remained even after factors such as heath, age, and wealth were accounted for.

Co-author Professor Andrew Steptoe yesterday explained,

“One might think that people who go to museums, attend concerts and so on are healthier than those who don’t. Or are wealthier, more mobile, and less depressed, and that these factors explain why attendance is related to survival. But the interesting thing about this research is that even when we take these and many other factors into account, we still see a strong association between cultural engagement and survival.”

The results of this study adds to the weight of evidence showing the benefit of the arts to health to children as well as adults, as recently showcased in a World Health Organisation (WHO) report co-authored by Dr Fancourt.

The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing was developed by a team of researchers based at UCL, NatCen Social Research, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and the University of Manchester. Funding for the study was provided by National Institute of Ageing grant and a consortium of UK government departments co-ordinated by the Economic and Social Research Council and The Wellcome Trust.

Further information

D Fancourt, A Steptoe: The art of life and death: 14 year follow-up analyses of associations between arts engagement and mortality in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (BMJ)