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A healthy diet and exercise are the two main ingredients when you’re trying to lay the foundation for a long and healthy life. However, research continues to suggest that other factors like a positive mindset and good social life also play a role. Now, an expert recommends art.
If you decompress by tuning into your favourite song or doing some colouring, you might be onto something.
According to a leading neurologist, simply engaging with art could add 10 years to your lifespan.
Various daily artistic practices could be very potent at lowering your stress levels, minimising physical and mental health problems, and helping you to learn, even later in life.
What’s more, you don’t need to be an artist, or even any good for that matter, to reap these promising benefits.
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Professor Susan Magsamen has put together various research papers to make a compelling case for art’s role in brain health in her new book, Your Brain on Art, written with the help of Ivy Ross, Google’s vice president of hardware design.
“The evidence is here,” Professor Magsamen, who is executive director of the International Arts + Minds Laboratory, Center for Applied Neuroaesthetics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told The Telegraph.
“Mask-making helps soldiers recover more quickly from PTSD, and a cancer hospital designed to increase and augment sensory experiences helps patients heal faster.”
In the book, the professor explains that engaging in 45 minutes of any kind of art, ranging from colouring to playing music, reduces the primary stress hormone, known as cortisol, and can help achieve happier, healthier lives.
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Her area of research focuses on neuroaesthetics or neuroarts, which detail the study of how art affects the brain.
She gave an example of a man with Alzheimer’s disease who recognised his son for the first time in 10 years, after tuning into a playlist of songs he used to love.
She said: “The music triggers multiple brain pathways stimulating the auditory cortex (which processes sound), the amygdala (the seat of emotion) and the hippocampus (memory).
“When we listen to nostalgic music it activates the hippocampus, but importantly, other areas of the brain, which also link to memory and recall that have not been damaged.”
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In order to maximise the effects of art, the authors of the book recommended aiming for at least 30 to 45 minutes of some kind of artistic practice each day.
But those who engage in the arts at least every week are still believed to have lower mental distress, better mental functioning and improved quality of life.
Humming and singing activates the vagus nerve, helping to engage the parasympathetic systems and make you feel calmer and more optimistic.
Singing has also been shown to help dementia patients reconnect with family and friends because it activates different pathways to memories.
Furthermore, curating a playlist of songs you associate with happy memories could reduce anxiety and boost mood.
Reading a poem that you love could light up some of the same parts of the brain as listening to music, stimulating your brain’s primary reward circuitry.
The nature of clay work has been shown to reduce negative mood and anxiety and also release serotonin, which could boost your mood and increase an optimistic outlook.
Join a knitting class
Sitting in a knitting circle could strengthen social connections as well as reduce anxiety and manage stress.
This joyful practice isn’t just for children. Dedicating just 30 minutes to colouring stimulates the same deep parts of your brain as meditation.
Visiting an interactive art installation helps to dissolve the boundaries between art and the viewer.
This can help engage your senses and create stronger emotional reactions that heighten learning and memory.
Smelling something you love or find positive, could help massively boost or change your mood, so get those candles you’ve been saving for a special occasion out.
The book Your Brain on Art by Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross is published by Canongate.
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