Many studies have examined the positive effects of the arts on older people.
Americans over 55 who did not create art or go to concerts, museums or plays reported higher rates of hypertension and cognitive decline than those who did, according to a study of nearly 1,500 participants released by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2017.
Similar studies have shown the benefits of exposing children and adolescents to art.
University of Arkansas researchers found that children who were taken on field trips to museums performed better in school and scored higher on standardized tests than those whose schools did not take students on field trips.
The London study is believed to be the first comprehensive examination of the effects of art on mortality, Professor Steptoe said.
From 2004 to 2005, researchers collected data from 6,710 people who responded to questionnaires about how often they went to concerts, museums, galleries, the theater or the opera. (Professor Steptoe said the effect of moviegoing had already been examined elsewhere and was not considered in the study.)
In addition to providing personal information such as age, gender, ethnicity, marital status, educational background, profession and income, participants also answered questions about their physical and mental health, how often they smoked or drank, and how much exercise they got.
Over the next 14 years, about 2,000 participants died — a vast majority of them from illnesses related to cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems and other natural causes, according to the study. (The tiny fraction of participants who died of unnatural causes was still included in the study, Professor Steptoe said.)
The researchers combed through the data they had collected to search for patterns. They said their findings suggested, but did not prove, that participating in the arts could lead to a longer life span.