As we age, participation in the arts such as painting, pottery, dance, music, poetry, drama, and more can positively affect our health. Research shows that involvement in the arts can improve cognitive functions by producing new neural pathways and thicker, stronger dendrites. These new pathways enhance our cognitive reserve, helping the brain compensate by using more efficient brain networks. When making art and viewing art, the brain continues to reshape, adapt, and restructure, expanding the potential to increase brain reserve capacity.

The Creativity and Aging Study conducted between 2001 and 2007 strongly supports this. The study found seniors active in the arts displayed better physical health, had fewer visits to the doctor, required fewer medications, and fell less frequently.

For instance, classical music has many positive effects on a senior’s well-being. Neuroscientists have found that by stimulating dopamine, classical and jazz music can heighten positive emotion in a person’s brain reward centers, often causing a person to feel a sense of joy. Listening to music helps prevent increases in heart rate and blood pressure and decreases cortisol levels making it effective at reducing stress and anxiety. Managing stress is an important skill, not only for senior citizens but for all people.

Amazingly, jazz can help mitigate pain. For example, enjoying jazz can reduce the duration and intensity of migraines and headaches. Even chronic pain can be reduced when listening to jazz. In one study, participants who listened to an hour of jazz each day for a week had a 21 percent reduction in pain and a 25 percent reduction in depression. It helps relieve pain so well that many hospitals use music therapy to decrease pain after surgery and complement anesthesia during surgery. Listening to jazz can improve focus, mood, and verbal memory too.

Try listening to your favorite tunes or painting a portrait while enjoying a glass of wine. Don’t worry; a glass a day can be good for you! Many studies show that older adults who drink 1-2 glasses of red wine a day experience health benefits. Drinking a glass of red wine a day can help promote heart health. Some doctors even recommend red wine as part of an older adult’s diet.

Further positive insight was given in Geriatric Monthly by Barbara Bagan, Ph.D., ATR-BC. Bagan stated that “expressive art activity” may:

  • Aid in relaxation, anxiety, and depression
  • Give feelings of control
  • Improve communication and socialization
  • Encourage humor and playfulness
  • Improve cognition
  • Offer sensory stimulation
  • Foster a strong sense of identity
  • Bolster self-esteem
  • Nurture faith
  • Reduce boredom

Involvement in participatory arts programs positively affects mental health, physical health, and social functioning in older adults by contributing to communication, building a sense of identity, preserving social capital, and strengthening communities’ social networks.