An occasional night at the theatre could add years to your life

Theater masks, drama and comedy on a dark background / 3D Rendering
Going to the theatre every few months could slash your risk of an early death. [Photo: Getty]

Enjoying a night at the theatre or a day out at a museum could add years to your life, research suggests.

Scientists from University College London asked more than 6,700 adults how often they engaged in “receptive art”.

Those who did so at least every few months were 31% less likely to die over the next 14 years than the participants who never had these cultural experiences.

The results remained true after the scientists took the participants’ health, income and age into account.

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Studies have linked the arts to a lower risk of premature death before, however, few were carried out in the UK.

The scientists therefore analysed adults aged 50 or over who took part in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

Fourteen years later, 2.4 people in every 1,000 who engaged in receptive arts at least every few months had died.

This is compared to six in every 100,000 who never went to concerts, the opera or museums.

Among those who “infrequently” engaged with the arts - less than once a year, or once or twice every 12 months - were 14% less likely to die over the 14 years than those who never did.

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“One might think people who go to museums, attend concerts and so on are healthier than those who don’t,” study author Professor Andrew Steptoe said.

“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 even when we take these and many other factors into account, we still see a strong association between cultural engagement and survival.”

Lead author Dr Daisy Fancourt added: “This protective association was largely explained by differences in thinking and understanding, mental health and physical activity levels among those who did and did not engage in the arts.”

The results, published in the BMJ, add to the growing body of evidence that arts benefit children and adults alike.

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“Our study has significance given the focus on schemes such as ‘social prescribing’ and ‘community service referrals’ that are being used to refer people to community arts activities in a number of countries,” Dr Fancourt said.

“In addition to other literature exploring the benefits of such engagement for specific mental and physical health conditions, our results suggest there might also be broader benefits including helping to promote longer lives.”

Writing in a linked editorial to the study, Professor Stephen Clift - from Caterbury Christ Church University - said poor, depressed and lonely people could benefit most from participating in the arts, but are the least likely to attend.

He stressed work must be done “to ensure the health benefits of the arts are accessible” to all.

The results also add weight to growing concerns that less students are reading arts subjects, like music, at university, Professor Clift added.