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Linda S. Noelker, PhD Headshot

How the Arts Can Improve Your Health

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The baby boomers are going to find arts programs more engaging and fulfilling ways to maintain their health, either as an alternative or complement to medications and medical treatments. An increasing body of research shows that participating in creative and performing arts programs has beneficial effects on your health and well-being across the lifespan.

Research scientists and professional artists convened by the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C. in March, 2011 showcased their research findings and state of the art programs with proven positive effects on cognitive health, physical health, and social well-being. Research showed when persons with movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease learned to do the Argentine tango, their balance and gait speed showed significant improvement compared to a control group that did not dance. Studies of older adults who participated in a chorale group in Washington, D.C. showed they had fewer doctor visits, less medication use, and fewer falls than those in the comparison group. Using theatrical training as the performing arts program, researchers in Elgin, Illinois found that older adults who received training had higher scores on memory and other cognitive tests than those in the control group.

The National Center for Creative Aging's website has information on arts programs around the U.S. that are well-established and widely used by middle-age and older adults. One example is the Intergenerational Orchestra of Omaha that brings together two generations, adults 50 and older and those younger than 25, for an annual season of seven concerts. The members range in age from 12 to 82 and have become so well known that they have done ten national tours. Another is ART@HAND which was established by the Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis to promote enjoyment of ceramic arts by persons aged 55 and older. It offers classes and programs for persons of all skill and experience levels as well as intergenerational workshops. The Creative Age program of the Educational Theatre Company of Arlington, Virginia engages those 55 and over in weekly theater workshops. Since its launch in 2009 it has served over 200 persons through dramatic lectures, scene study, and reminiscence led by professional artists and educators.

Boomers with an interest in joining creative and performing arts programs should check out the offerings of their local community colleges and universities' arts departments, local and state arts councils, and public libraries. Also, if there's a Lifelong Learning Institute in the area, it's an excellent resource for mind-engaging programs of all types, as is the OASIS Institute which has a national network of centers in 26 cities around the U.S.

The Boomers are likely to have a major impact on the arts world as they age similar to their impact on pop culture back in the 1960s. They'll ask the question: Why do physical exercises when dancing have equal or greater benefits and be fun at the same time? New evidence-based arts programs are growing in number and reach as they are adopted by universities, health care systems, and even cruise lines as a more "whole person" approach to health and fitness.