Feeling depressed or under the weather? Maybe a trip to the opera is just what the doctor ordered. Researchers in Norway say they've established a correlation between their subjects' health and their participation in cultural activities.
In a recent study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, a team led by Koenraad Cuypers of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that a healthier cultural life may be an indicator of a healthier, happier life in general. This doesn't mean that visiting a museum will immediately clear up recurring depression, just that active cultural lifestyles may be healthier as a whole than the alternative. The researchers used data on cultural participation and perceived health from the 2006-2008 Nord-Trøndelag Health Study, and differentiated between "creative cultural activities," such as singing or painting, and "receptive cultural activities," such as watching a film or listening to music.
One of the study's most provocative findings was the gender-specific component of these correlations. On the one hand, "attending receptive cultural activities is associated less with good health than participating
in creative cultural activities in women;" on the other, "The study revealed that men who engaged speciﬁcally in receptive, rather than creative, cultural activities reported better health-related outcomes." In other words, while women seem to benefit most from active art creation, men show a stronger response when they spend some time appreciating others' work.
It's still shown that women derive health benefits from receptive cultural activities and that men benefit from creative ones, but that extra, sex-linked boost raises a number of questions about men's and women's different styles of cultural consumption.
A frequent criticism of studies like this one is that both cultural activity and health are strongly correlated with socioeconomic status. As your revenues go up, of course, you can better afford Broadway shows and treatment at Mount Sinai. This makes it harder to attribute changes in health to changes in cultural activity, since they may both be influenced by the subjects' tax brackets.
The study makes clear, however, that this criticism is unfounded; according to the authors, "even though cultural participation was linked to socio-economy, analysis showed that this was not the main cause of its additional link to good health. " They add, "Our results may be in concordance with Katz-Gerro, who stated that the relationship between health and socio-economy may not be fully explained by better access to healthcare, work conditions, social ties and health behaviour."
So, does that mean the government health ministries will start including cultural activity in treatment plans? That's not likely to happen any time soon, but at least individuals who see the study may be encouraged to increase their cultural consumption for the sake of their health. And it just might work; people will do just about anything if they think it's healthy.