Cultural activities are good for you

perhaps you love to volunteer in creating exhibits and displays for the local library? A new study shows that participating in different cultural activities – whether in schools, at church, or in the community at large — is more than just good for your friends and neighbours – it is also good for your health.

Photo credit: Mentz Indergaard/NTNU Info

Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology  (NTNU) analysed information about participation in cultural activities and health from a population-based study called HUNT that involved more than 50 000 participants from 2006-2008. The analysis — conducted by Koenraad Cuypers, Steinar Krokstad, Turid Lingaas Holmen, Margunn Skjei Knudtsen, Lars Olov Bygren and Jostein Holmen, showed a surprising link between participation in different kinds of community cultural activities and good health.

“Take two theatre tickets and call me in the morning”
In fact, being involved in either receptive cultural activities (such as attending a theatre performance or viewing an art show) or creative culture activities (where participants themselves are active in the creative process) was found to be related not only to good health, but to satisfaction with life, and low levels of anxiety and depression.

“Up to now physical activity has been recognized as a measure that promotes good health. But our study shows that other daily life activities may promote good health from a holistic point of view,” the NTNU researchers said. “The results suggest that the use of cultural activities in health promotion and health care may be justified.”

Intriguing gender differences
The findings also showed a number of interesting differences between men and women in terms of health benefits:

•    Men seemed to get more of a perceived health benefit from being involved in different receptive cultural activities than women did. However, participation in different creative and receptive cultural activities was associated with good satisfaction with life, low anxiety and low depression in both genders. Researchers also found dose-response association – the more activities, the better a person felt.
•    Participation in creative cultural activities was more strongly related to good health than participation in receptive cultural activities, while participation in receptive cultural activities was more likely to be linked with satisfaction with life, low anxiety and low depression than participation in creative cultural activities in both genders. This trend was also stronger in men than in women.
•    In both genders, more people participated in creative rather than in receptive cultural activities.
•    The frequency of participation along with the number of activities increased to the age of 50 and then began to decrease.
•    A person’s frequency of participation in cultural activities, along with the number of different activities, was also related to socio-economic status, with the variety of activities and overall number increasing with socio-economic status.

50797 participants
The HUNT study involved 50 797 adult participants from Nord-Trøndelag County, Norway who were queried about different aspects of their lifestyles and health. The researchers’ findings will be published in the upcoming issue of Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The study is entitled: “Patterns of receptive and creative cultural activities and their association with perceived health, anxiety, depression and satisfaction with life among adults: the HUNT study, Norway.” Koenraad Cuypers, Steinar Krokstad, Turid Lingaas Holmen, Margunn Skjei Knudtsen, Lars Olov Bygren, and Jostein Holmen.  Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 2011, DOI: 10.1136/jech.2010.113571