Cultural Activities May Improve Health, Fight Depression

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Depression often causes people to give up activities that they once loved, such as painting, dancing, playing a musical instrument, or attending a theatre play, museum, or concert. However, this may be the one thing that can keep the sadness and social isolation at bay. New research from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology shows that those who participate in cultural activities are healthier and less depressed than people who don’t.

The Nord-Trondelag Health Study (HUNT) surveyed over 48,000 people on participation in various art forms and depression and anxiety levels. They found a positive relationship between cultural activivies and self-perceived health and well-being for both men and women of all socioeconomic status. For men, there was also an association between exposure to the arts and relief from depression symtpoms.

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The study corroborates an earlier, smaller study conducted in Sweden which shown an association between attendance at cultural events and health. The authors found that people who frequently attended activities such as the cinema, concerts, museums or art exhibits had better survival odds than those who rarely attended and those years were generally spent in better health.

The findings were especially significant for those performing the art, such as playing an instrument, singing, painting, sculpting and dancing. Participating in cultural activities contribute to self-esteem, pride, and accomplishment. Expression through art and movement has been associated with mood-lifting and social connections. Previous studies have shown that children with many interests and activities are less likely to have behavior problems and naturally build a wider circle of friends.

The role of dance in depression, for example, was studied at the University of New England. Rosa Pinniger, a psychology research student, taught tango to study participants. She states that “in learning Tango movements, you have to focus your attention and be completely in the present moment.” It is also accessible and less threatening than other dance moves for most people, achieving a sense of accomplishment more easily. It also provides a human connection that is uplifting.

Even just attending the cultural offerings of others provide a sense of community and belonging, and thus relief from sadness. They provide an outlet to escape negative thoughts and emotions, and take your mind off your problems for a time, perhaps allowing you to return to those issues with a more clear and objective mind. Listening to music, for example, can help someone develop coping and relaxation skills or provide an opportunity to discuss feelings that are provoked from the environment and sounds.

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