It is our firm belief that everyone has an artistic side. This doesn’t necessarily mean each of us could pull out a canvas and suddenly become Caravaggio, Vermeer, or Van Gogh, but there are many forms of artistic expression that are equally valid and beneficial to the artist. When you boil it down, art is anything that is created with aesthetic value in mind. This doesn’t mean art can’t have practical value. A beautifully carved chair that’s been painted and decorated can be both a piece of art and a functional chair. Even simply applying your makeup in the morning can count if you’re doing it with passion and a creative flair. (It’s called makeup artistry for a reason!) This opens the door to many different avenues of artistic expression that seniors can explore. But, beyond that simple drive to create art, is there a reason to start creating art, even if you’ve never done it before?
The stereotype of the tortured artist creating masterpieces as they fight with their internal demons may have real-world examples (like the aforementioned Caravaggio and Van Gogh, in exceedingly different ways), but there’s research that shows that expressing yourself artistically can be positive for your mental health. On a day-to-day basis, art is effective at helping the artist manage their stress, with one study showing a 75 percent reduction in participants’ cortisol levels (the stress hormone) after only 45 minutes of making art. In many ways, exploring your artistic side has the same mental health benefits of adult coloring books, which are a form of art after all. This state of flow makes art.
Research found these art therapy methods led to “significant improvements” for their patients, especially in seniors suffering from depression.
In a more clinical sense, art therapy has long been used to help manage or treat stress, anxiety, and depression-related issues. The value of this type of therapy has been backed by research that found these methods led to “significant improvements” for their patients, especially in seniors suffering from depression. One major literature review concluded that the majority of research on the subject points to the notion that artistic creativity can “decrease anxiety, stress, and mood disturbances” and promote healing. The review also notes that art can be a way for the artist to express feelings or experiences that are otherwise too difficult to discuss, making it a valuable trauma therapy.
One of the great things about art is that you don’t have to be shut away, alone, to do it. In many ways, art can be a very social hobby. No matter what type of art you’re creating, there’s likely a group near you that meets to share their creations or even make art together. You can also join an art class to improve your skills. Beyond classes and clubs, you can also simply create art by painting, photographing, or drawing an in-person model. All of these are ways art can help you to make new friends and avoid social isolation, which have their own health benefits that make it worthwhile.
You may not think of art as a workout, but it can really help you physically. You just need to rethink your art. For example, photography may require you to hike or get outside, especially if you’re taking photos of wildlife or landscapes. Others can be surprisingly effective exercises — like woodworking, which can burn 100 calories per hour. Even when creating the art isn’t burning a ton of calories, it can help you exercise in different ways. For example, hobbies, like clay sculpting and knitting, that require small, precise movements can help sharpen a senior’s fine motor skills and keep their joints strong and mobile.
While there are physical and social benefits to taking up art, the true strengths lie in the mind. We already discussed the emotional and mental health benefits of art, but there’s plenty of evidence to support art’s aid in healthy mental aging, too. The National Institute on Aging notes that participatory forms of art like theater and music can improve seniors’ quality of life and mental qualifiers like cognitive function and memory. This makes sense, as we’ve previously found that our brains work in a use-it-or-lose-it way. Since art engages the brain in many different ways, it certainly counts as using it. This resilience of cognitive function through art has become well established in science consensus, especially when the hobby is started earlier in life.
These studies are part of a large body of works that outline the benefits present for long-term cognitive improvement and the slow of the progression of dementia, increasing the patient’s quality of life.
Art therapy is also believed to be effective at aiding people suffering from degenerative or neurocognitive conditions. The literature certainly points to art therapy improving the neurological symptoms of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. Importantly, the evidence appears to support that these improvements are sustained as the senior continues to take part in the artistic endeavor. These studies are part of a large body of works that outline the benefits present for long-term cognitive improvement and the slow of the progression of dementia, increasing the patient’s quality of life.
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We’ve previously discussed how finding a purpose can make you healthier and happier. For many that devote their lives to art, their creative expression becomes their purpose, further making it valuable to the artist. But, you don’t need to take things that far to experience the positive effects of your art. Simply making it a new or rekindled hobby of yours can add a spark to your life that can keep you mentally sharper, happier, and active for years to come.