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Did You Know the Arts Can Lower Your Blood Pressure?

The arts offer real health benefits as people age

By Heidi Raschke

I don't know whether New York Times columnist Jane Brody is a soprano, a mezzo or an alto. But I do know that I'm glad to add her voice to the chorus of those noticing the connection between arts and vitality.

In her March 7, 2016 column for the Times' Well section, Using the Arts to Promote Healthy Aging, the respected health writer mentioned several studies and programs familiar to those who've been following Next Avenue's Artful Aging special report to demonstrate how "the arts in their myriad forms are enhancing the lives and health of older people."

Among her examples of the health benefits of the arts, Brody touted the work of the Music and Memory project, which promotes the power of music to bring someone with  dementia back to life.

The Goal of Senior Artists Colonies

She shared stories about a couple of residents of the senior artists colonies in California — the brainchild of  Tim Carpenter of EngAge, whose new "goal is to create a nationwide network of programs for seniors that keep them healthy, happy and active through lifelong learning in every conceivable art form, enabling them to live independently as long as possible."


Brody mentioned the late Dr. Gene D. Cohen, "a staunch advocate for the mental and physical benefits of creativity for the elderly," whose work has inspired many in the creative aging field, including the founders of the Lifetime Arts library program.

She mentioned the crucial role of teaching artists as well as a program called Dancers for a Variable Population that brought to mind the edgy choreography of Randy Glynn.

"Social engagement, which nearly all these programs provide, has been repeatedly found in major population studies to prolong life and enhance healthy aging," Brody concluded. "Clinically, the programs have been linked to lowered blood pressure, reduced levels of stress hormones, and increased levels of the “happiness hormones” that are responsible for a runner’s high."

In other words, making art is good for you.

Heidi Raschke is a longtime journalist and editor who previously was the Executive Editor of Mpls-St. Paul Magazine and Living and Learning Editor at Next Avenue. Currently, she runs her own content strategy and development consultancy. Read More
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